When I was a kid and in later life, I used to be an avid reader of books and novels, especially science fiction as well as related non-fiction and such (I was always interested in science, technology and what the future might bring). But in my later years I haven’t been reading books much at all, as what I Iike to read is difficult to get hold of and my favourite authors no longer write (many having passed away). I now really enjoy my own writing (whether it’s good or bad) and reading and researching for things on the internet, which can take up a lot of time. On the other hand, my wife is an avid book worm and fills our book case (and other places) to overflowing, having to do a spring clean every so often to make space for new books, Most of what my wife reads comes from the local library, but she often picks up novels and books from the local market or op shop, which leads me to this story.
In bygone days, books were the way in which children could learn about the world, fantasise about adventures and develop an imagination, as well as learn how to read and write (some of our journalists should take note), amongst other things. Nowadays, mobile phones, computer games, YouTube videos and anything that doesn’t require a lot of imagination or effort is where the attention seems to be focussed. Not that this applies to all kids, but I suspect those are in the very small minority. Certainly in my childhood days, entertainment came from books and when TV was allowed to be watched, it often involved educational stuff and not the pap and subtle political rubbish that is now considered education and entertainment. And I think the loss of fun reading has led to a loss in emotional growth, understanding and critical thinking that I believe comes from extensive reading from a very early age. Again, I’m not trying to be a Luddite here, but I sometimes think that the baby has been thrown out with the bath water when it comes to what children are exposed to in literature nowadays and education in general.
In years gone by, books were also given as prizes, birthday and Christmas gifts amongst others, and were very much cherished by the recipients, but I wonder how today’s children would react if given a book as a gift? I suspect that gift expectations today would be something like a new iPhone, the latest brand name runners or whatever. Looking through my wife’s collection of old books, it tells a clear story of how books were regarded and valued in the past. It’s not only that they were valued, but they tend to last throughout the decades (and much longer), while so many things digital just disappear into the ether when a phone is lost, a computer hard drive dies, or those DVDs don’t play anymore. It’s another reason why I like prints, which is another story, for another day.
I also believe that a lot of the fun has been taken out of books by the ever so vigilant politically correct, perpetually offended, social justice warriors (SJW). I don’t think there is any way that books read by the generations in the late 1800s and early to mid-1900s would ever be produced today, no matter how inspiring they could be for young minds. The stories would be considered wrong in every conceivable way as far as the SJWs are concerned. We now even have stories of such classics as Pippi Longstocking being removed from libraries and burned, reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451 (amazing how things can change in just 10 years). And it’s interesting that the author of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, made the following comment about the book: ‘In later years, he described the book as a commentary on how mass media reduces interest in reading literature.’
The thing with many of the books I’ve shown here is that they tell positive stories, stories about daring do, achievement, self-respect and concern for others in a meaningful way. They don’t promote pointless victimhood, concocted microagression, cultural appropriation, need for safe spaces and other imagined slights and fears. These books empowered young girls and boys with tales that they could relate to, dream about, and which strengthened their self-esteem and sense of hope and achievement, rather than what happens today where everyone is declared a victim of something or another, or accused of being a natural born aggressor, and needs to seek help.
So when it comes to books and stories for boys and girls today, you won’t see many, if any, that might reflect the styles of yesteryear. In today’s world, girls can’t just be girls, boys can’t just be boys, it’s a gender fluid and utterly confusing world where anyone can be any thing. And I’m not the only one that seems to think this way and, interestingly, also mention books that hark back many decades. It reminds me of a trip my wife and I did to Tasmania over 20 years ago, where we stayed at a B&B in Strahan that contained books and artefacts from 100 years back. Both my wife and I spent a wonderful evening in front of a blazing fire, enjoying some port and cheese, going through old books such as Boy’s Own etc and commenting back then that these types of books have long disappeared from the modern world.
And yes, books for children are still being published, but the push by the SJWs is never ending and in their relentless quest to right perceived wrongs, they take the fun out of everything. The SJWs are already burning classic books in Sweden that don’t meet with their approval, when will they start burning them elsewhere? And why is everything now decided by the few? Society has given them an inch and they now believe that they are entitled to take a mile. I wonder how much of this and other things I’ve mentioned, contributes to the actual decline in childhood reading and subsequently many other important skills?
Update 1. An interesting take on The Death of Reading:
This is.the power of books. They let us escape, try on new points of view, and explore what it means to be human. The great works give readers a shared experience and a shorthand for big ideas.
Update 2. I’m more than surprised that, after writing this article, I’m coming across ever more articles that seem to express much the same concerns about the general loss of interest in reading:
Want Teenage Boys to Read? Give Them Books About Heroes
No matter how desperately many in our culture seek to deconstruct masculinity and deny this truth, boys want to be—or to grow up to be—heroes. Heroism comes in many forms, of course, and is not limited to males, but let’s be honest and not politically correct: boys dream of slaying the dragon, saving the day, and yes, winning the damsel. From Gilgamesh to James Bond, from Thomas Malory to Alexandre Dumas, tales of courage and derring-do inspire boys to rise above their animal selves, to stand against evil, and to become men of honor and service.
Update 3. A little off-topic, but related none the less and I’m not surprised one bit the schools have untrained English teachers, given that the three Rs have ostensibly fallen by the wayside as more ‘important’ subjects become the focus of teaching. And the three Rs must start at a young age, not VCE:
Only one-third of secondary teachers reported that English staff in their schools were trained English teachers, according to a recent survey by the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English.
“There’s a mentality that anyone who can read a book can teach English,” association president Emily Frawley said.
Kate Jones* was among them, and left her previous school after she was forced to teach Year 7 and 8 English classes for four years. The trained music teacher was told that it didn’t matter if she “did an awful job” because the students were so young.
Ms Frawley said schools tended to place trained English teachers in VCE year levels, where the stakes are high and English is the only compulsory subject.
Update 4. I came across Sleeping Beauty and … the predatory Prince? and it illustrated the sad state of affairs today. The SJWs never sleep:
A British mum of a six-year old has asked his school to withdraw the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty from its curriculum because it conveys inappropriate sexual messages.
Update 5. I Though I’d include this article, ‘Are Schools Seeking to Raise Social Justice Warriors?‘ as it really does highlight where things are heading with early childhood reading and some worrying, though not unexpected, developments:
So just what kind of books and themes are teachers introducing their students to?
Famed educator Maria Montessori once said:
“Travel stories teach geography; insect stories lead the child into natural science; and so on. The teacher, in short, can use reading to introduce her pupils to the most varied subjects; and the moment they have been thus started, they can go on to any limit guided by the single passion for reading.”
Apparently piggy-backing on the idea put forth by Montessori – that teachers can use reading to direct children to the ideas they want them to think about – the ETFO has a variety of book lists advancing common social justice themes.