October 2nd, 2008

Trixie heroine addict blue

Age-Banding: Our Children Will Be Dumber For It

Jacqueline Wilson's book gets "age-banded"

This is terrible. TERRIBLE!

I know, I know, that sounds all dramatic, like I'm running around shrieking and waving my hands and possibly on the verge of getting the vapors. But it really is terrible. Maybe I should be running around, although I draw the line at anything requiring smelling salts.

The idea of some random group trying to categorize the level of development of a (generic) child's mind and then recommend that only some books are "suitable" for the age level, when no one can determine, for each child, what "suitable" is, just horrifies me. I don't care if they'll have guidelines for what age group to put books in, I don't care if they'll say, "Well, it's just a guide, parents can use their discretion..."

No. Not good enough. Parents will either be too cautious in trying to shield their children, too busy to screen on their own, or too lazy to make a decision as to whether their child can read the book when the decision has apparently been made for them. The reader, the educator/child of educators, and the would-be parent in me are all in disagreement with this idea. Not to mention the "concerned-about-the-development-of-future-generations" part of me. I think it will be very bad for the education of future generations. I fear that parents will, possibly with good intentions, limit their child's reading material to the appropriate "age level" even if said child is capable and interested in reading above the age level. Even adult books with very serious themes, perhaps.

Reading is so very personal. Everyone has different tastes, everyone is at different levels. Even as adults we are at different levels. Some children would be all the better for reading some adult books (I, for one, strongly feel that reading even books I couldn't 100% "get" when younger helped me absorb some insights about the workings of the world, not to mention all the random vocabulary and tiny tidbits of knowledge I picked up along the way). True, some others won't be ready for it yet - but those are the ones who won't *want* to read the books, anyway.

I do realize it's just a guideline, and hey, maybe parents will just use it as such. But I am really not that optimistic - what I am concerned about is that: a) the people setting these guidelines are probably the same ones who try to get books taken off the shelves at libraries (because who else would bother with this?) and THEY are going to be setting the guidelines; and b) all the parents who mean well (i.e. try to ensure their kids are reading at the right level or whatever) but are too busy or lazy to do otherwise are going to start following these guidelines and thus limiting their children's reading options. And, ok, maybe that's their right as parents, but I just know these guidelines are going to be, albeit maybe with good intentions, misapplied by me-tooers who will just assume the age rating is accurate or appropriate, to the detriment of their children ("Won't someone please consider the children??").

Even my parents have fallen prey to me-tooism on occasion. When younger, I narrowly escaped such censorship with my parent, even before any idea of "age-banding" was around (CD Explicit labels were, as you'll see):

Example #1: At the age of fourteen (FOURTEEN!), when I'd been listening to Tori Amos since fourth grade, suddenly my father noticed an "Explicit" label on the Boys for Pele CD I was going to order. Did he allow me to order it and listen to it? No. Did he order it and give it a listen to ensure it was ok? No. Did he listen to my pleading that I really, really had to have this CD because I loved the music? No. He just dismissed it out of hand because of the label. Never mind that I had several CDs already that were deserving of or had that label. He hadn't bothered to look at them. But since he happened to see that label on that CD, he decided I shouldn't listen to it. (I obtained it anyway, of course. But I had to go to a store and pay more. And for what? A couple of curses I knew anyway? *sigh*) (P.S. Don't even get me started on what he did when he saw the cover of my Jane's Addiction CD.) Was it detrimental to me to listen to that CD? No. Not at all. But he thought it would be, because of the label.

Example #2: At some point in my teen years, my mother gave me, as a birthday present, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which is a gosh-darned amazing book that deals with several serious issues, is very well-written, opens doors to various aspects of American history, etc. My father, however, had heard that, *gasp* there was a scene in it that sounded like it was about lesbians or something -- where a group of women were examining their v-- their v-- ("Maybe if you wrote it out?" "No, I can't spell it.") say it with me in a whisper, everyone: their vaginas. And because he'd somehow heard of this scene, he didn't want me to read this wonderful book. Now, this battle I did win, possibly by arguing a lot or, I think, because my mother stepped in and said, no, she knew this book was ok for me to read. But the point is: Was the scene actually about lesbianism? No. It was about a feminist womens' group trying to learn about being more empowered. It was a scene that was actually somewhat skewered by the author, who used other female characters to show better ways to be empowered as a woman. Was it a scene that harmed me in any way? No, it was really a bit of a throw-away compared to the rest of the book. Was the book wonderful and amazing and something that I learned from: yes. Did my dad ever read this book? No.

Which is fine. But my point is: everyone's tastes are different, particularly in reading, and to try and put a limit on such complex and wonderful things as books, possibly due to a minor detail or something that is actually appropriate when in context, when there's no guarantee that the people limiting the books necessarily even understand the point of whatever particular book they're limiting, is an unnecessary and harmful thing to do to our future generations.

And now I'll get off my soapbox and go to bed.

P.S. I am not the only person to feel this way: writers, illustrators, librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers, educationalists, psychologists, parents and grandparents have all put their names on this website to say they do not support age-banding. Names include Philip Pullman, children’s laureate Michael Rosen, JK Rowling, Terry Pratchett, and, of course, Jacqueline Wilson. (You can ask to have your name listed too. See the instructions under the list of supporters.)

(Also check out the comments left on the page.)

ETA: I do realize this is a UK thing, and that US books have recommended reading ages - but this seems like it's going to be a lot more blatant than the little US numbers on the backs of books, and also, I just hate the idea of this stuff going on anywhere.