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Age-Banding: Our Children Will Be Dumber For It - Walking on the Edge
I don't really have a plan...
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.

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Trixie feels: irate irate

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particle_person From: particle_person Date: October 3rd, 2008 04:05 am (UTC) (current file)
You do know that this is mainly a British issue, right? U.S. books have had "reading levels" corresponding to some mythical appropriate grade for years, mainly on paperback children's books. It says "RL 4.4" or something for a book meant for grades 4 to 5.

I agree with you that it's dumb, but if the U.S. is any guide, people will forget it's even there soon. How many people even know what the RL means on our own books?
foresthouse From: foresthouse Date: October 3rd, 2008 04:21 am (UTC) (current file)
No, I totally do realize that. It's just that: a) I hate the idea in any form, even if it's happening somewhere else in the world; and b) this seems like it will be a lot more blatant/large markings on the books than the US ones, which also didn't happen with this sort of fuss.
(Deleted comment)
foresthouse From: foresthouse Date: October 3rd, 2008 03:20 pm (UTC) (current file)

lyrainverse From: lyrainverse Date: October 3rd, 2008 02:14 pm (UTC) (current file)
I got Nine Inch Nails' Downward Spiral when I was in 7th grade from one of those mail-order CD services. When my mom saw the Explicit Lyrics label, she said she wanted to listen to it first. I immediately ran upstairs to my older sister and said, "KATE! You have to take this CD! Mom wants to listen to it! 'CLOSER' IS ON HERE!" She realized the gravity of the situation and took it off my hands, and my mother was saved from having a brain meltdown. This was the woman who didn't want me to listen to The Proclaimers' "500 Miles" because it talked about him waking up next to a woman but does not specify whether or not they are married.* I really don't know what would've happened had she heard Closer.

Interestingly, my parents had no problem with me reading Stephen King or 'The Exorcist' in junior high.

*In retrospect, she may just have hated the song.
foresthouse From: foresthouse Date: October 3rd, 2008 03:22 pm (UTC) (current file)
HEE. See, and the Tori CD wasn't anything near as bad as that.

You know, I'm ok with parents actually hearing or seeing something and going, "no, that's not appropriate for them yet." If it's on an individual basis and carefully considered. That *is* the right of parents, for good or ill. But labeling essentially says, "you don't have to screen this, we will!" and is NOT individually tailored, of course. So parents just go with that sometimes and that is bad.

Edited for dumb spelling error

Edited at 2008-10-03 03:27 pm (UTC)
ashcomp From: ashcomp Date: October 3rd, 2008 03:12 pm (UTC) (current file)
I remember teachers and librarians trying to steer me to more "age-appropriate" things in elementary school. Interestingly, they were trying to protect me from undue influence of science fiction.

Your dad sounds a little protective. I wonder if he realizes that you are now a grown person striving mightily to protect his sensibilities (Grinning wryly).

We raised one daughter, and never considered telling her to not read something. I did keep a closer eye than she might have realized on her exploration of the internet--at least, in elementary and middle school. By high school it was pretty clear that she had the appropriate shield of basic cynicism & control over her RL identity, and was not likely to go disappearing to meet some stranger based on a chat room romance. (Hi, kid.)

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foresthouse From: foresthouse Date: October 3rd, 2008 03:33 pm (UTC) (current file)
Hah - Yeah, I was always reading things that were supposedly way over my head at the age I was.

Well, he doesn't try to influence what I read or hear any more (other than to complain about the music not being music, but that's more Grumpy Older Person than Censorship). And really, my parents did not try to steer my choices or censor what I read/heard in general (mostly because I just didn't ask - I ordered a lot of music via Columbia House, most of which was completely unobjectionable, and I read whatever was in the house, often in my room with the door closed). It was just when there was a particular thing that came to his attention that there might be fireworks. And, you know, I can see his point that he didn't want his money supporting, for instance, CDs with words he didn't agree with. But it was *my* money, actually, so...yeah.

My parents never monitored my email or online use. I don't really think they had the time, honestly. Heh. But like you say about your daughter, they knew I wasn't stupid or incautious, and mostly I was only talking to people online that I knew in person when I was still living at home. :)
virginia_belle From: virginia_belle Date: October 3rd, 2008 04:27 pm (UTC) (current file)
I completely agree with you. I was aware of the little reading leval notations on US books, but I've never seen the huge advisory stickers.

My parents were really strict on my reading,too. They've loosened up now, but they used to be much more strictly conservative, and my mom was convinced that sci fi and fantasy warped kids' minds. I had to sneak a lot of books around in the house. When I was in high school, I kept my stash of sci fi and fantasy tucked up behind the big mirror on my dresser. Unfortunately, when I was away at college, the backing on the mirror gave way and everything came spilling out. That led to a rather unique series of phone calls from home. Among other things, I remember The Left Hand of Darkness just about blew everyone's minds.

foresthouse From: foresthouse Date: October 6th, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC) (current file)
Oh, my, I can just imagine the scene when all the books came a-tumbling out. Heh.
deathandthegirl From: deathandthegirl Date: October 4th, 2008 12:25 pm (UTC) (current file)
When I was seven years old, my school got a new librarian who decided that students under a certain age should not be allowed to check out chapter books. I was included in this category, and illicitly read them in corners of the library instead. The worst thing was that this didn't even have anything to do with content--only length and comprehension, which I was entirely equipped to handle at that age.

Needless to say, I agree with you completely. When I was little, I used the list of books Matilda read in Roald Dahl's Matilda as a guide, and ended up reading more of Charles Dickens than would probably be considered healthy, but it was good for me. It helped me improve my vocabulary and, like you said, gave me insights into and knowledge about the adult world. Reading those books showed me a world beyond my small experiences and gave me a sense of infinite possibility. I will remember that terrible woman until I die, and as an adult, will try to prevent people like her from imposing their inane and pointless fears on innocent minds.
foresthouse From: foresthouse Date: October 6th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC) (current file)
Oh, LIBRARIANS! You're supposed to be more awesome than that!!

My librarian, fortunately, was all about people reading whatever they wanted. *hugs his memory fondly*
cosmob From: cosmob Date: October 4th, 2008 06:20 pm (UTC) (current file)
While I tended to stick with more "age-appropriate" things (mostly 'cause they interested me more), my brother, in first grade, read the novelization of "Top Gun;" by fourth grade, he was reading The Hunt For Red October and other adult novels. My brother is now the one who loves books and reads a ton; on the other hand, I don't really read much at all. Sure, it could be a coincidence, but I'd like to think otherwise.
foresthouse From: foresthouse Date: October 6th, 2008 09:56 pm (UTC) (current file)
See, that's why I think the age-banding thing is ridiculous - people are not going to struggle along with something above their "level" unless they really want to - and if they really want to, then struggling through something like that will only help them in their learning, which is, you know, a good thing!
addygryff From: addygryff Date: October 5th, 2008 01:29 am (UTC) (current file)
God, how I hate the way they seem to treat children more and more like morons these days.

I'm just glad that my mother always pretty much let me read and listen to whatever I wanted. The only thing she was slightly more strict about were movies, and even there she was willing to make exceptions, as long as we'd watch the ones really inappropriate for a kid my age together.
foresthouse From: foresthouse Date: October 6th, 2008 09:58 pm (UTC) (current file)
I know. There's so much "carefulness" in raising kids that they are hardly allowed to be kids anymore. *sigh*
bitter_sweet05 From: bitter_sweet05 Date: October 7th, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC) (current file)
I'm grateful that my mother never actually looked at what I was reading... I'm 20 years old now, and I can not recall ever having my mother tell me I couldn't read something because it wasn't appropriate... she told me I couldn't watch Adult Swim when I was 12, because it said 14 and over, which I thought was insane of her because she bought my 11 year old sister rated R movies. lol Nobody ever said she was completely right in the head. heh.

Either way, this is utterly inappropriate in any and every country... it's hypocritical. We want our children to learn, to be ahead of the curve, and yet, we don't want them to read outside their age level. Ridiculous. The US never cared for that whole 'age appropriate' thing, but... other countries actually seem to give a shit about stuff like this, so yeah... I'm worried for you UKers...
foresthouse From: foresthouse Date: October 8th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC) (current file)
Yeah, in general my parents were pretty lax in a good way - no R movies when young, but reading was USUALLY never a problem. (Above was, like, the ONE example). But my family is essentially composed of teachers, so we place a really high value on learning - I am more concerned for kids of parents who don't realize its importance, or who just don't care - just because a parent wasn't a big reader as a child, doesn't mean their kid isn't going to be one.
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