Content notes

How much attention to what children read is too much? Andrew Doyle writes:

Yet perhaps it is unsurprising that activists who are convinced that language causes real-world “harm” should be troubled by the reading habits of children. After all, it’s hardly a fringe view: the Centre for Teaching and Learning at the University of Cambridge this month suggested that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series ought to come with “content notes” (a substitute phrase for “trigger warnings” given that the word “trigger” connotes violence and might therefore induce trauma).

Ok hang on. It’s clear that Doyle disapproves, but lots of books include content notes, including novels written 50 or 100 or 200 years ago. It can be good to know what a barouche landau is, or how entailment worked, or the background of the Reform Act. I feel this somewhat sharply in the case of Wilder, because I loved her novels as a child, and read them over and over, and as an adult I’m aware that there are things that need explaining. The one that sticks out is the fact that Pa tried to steal a piece of land in an area set aside for Native Americans who had already been brutally expelled from the eastern part of the country. Needless to say that’s not how Wilder puts it, and children don’t just naturally know the facts. That kind of thing forms how and what people think, so yes, it should be annotated. Why not? (Don’t get me started on Gone With the Wind, which should be thrown out rather than annotated.)

Doyle doesn’t agree but I think he skates over the “children don’t just naturally know the facts” problem.

This fear that children might be morally corrupted by “problematic” literature might explain the sudden deluge of progressive children’s books on the market: just as children are deemed so malleable that they might transform into bigots if they read outdated work, it is assumed that they can be indoctrinated in the “correct” way if their reading materials are layered with messaging that reinforces the creed of social justice.

It’s not necessarily a fear that children might be morally corrupted by “problematic” literature though: it can be an awareness that children might learn factually false or incomplete history.

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