What did you learn in school today, hon?

Unusually for me I can’t make my mind up about this one.

[Smithereens,] a book of gruesome short stories, which includes a task asking students to write two suicide notes, is being taught to 13-year-olds at some schools, prompting adolescent health experts to warn it could encourage vulnerable teens to self harm.

Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive Joe Tucci said schools should not be asking students to rehearse potentially harmful behaviour. ”When you encourage adolescents to undertake activities that blur the line between fantasy and reality … it might tip them into undertaking that activity,” he said.
Childhood pyschologist Michael Carr-Gregg said Smithereens should be immediately removed from schools.
”It could give them ideas about self harm and potentially lead them to believe the world is a bleaker, darker, more miserable place than it actually is,” Dr Carr-Gregg said.

Well, actually I’m settled on one or two things, chief of which is this paranoia that children and adolescents are so fucking fragile these days that almost anything is seen as liable to tip them over the edge in some way, is probably a bit over the top. Newsflash: at school we did Lord of the Flies without becoming savages (well, more savage than teenagers are naturally), To Kill A Mockingbird without instantly becoming racists, lawyers or Gregory Peck, and a couple of Shakespeare romance comedies without anyone expressing a desire get into any item of female attire except in the sense that teenage boys normally want to. My teenage years are not so far behind me that I don’t recall them quite well, and I can say without any hesitation that we were able to tell the bloody difference between the written word and the real world. Teenagers don’t shatter when they read something depressing. No, probably not even the emos.

On the other hand it does seem like the kind of book I’d have hated to get in English class. Lord of the Flies was depressing and bored my arse off so thoroughly that I used to fall over sitting down. Part of its educational effect on me was that I didn’t learn what a good book it is until school was a few years behind me, but at the time I had to read it I did not actually read it at all. I read just enough of it to get the homework done without too many really crap marks, and not a single sentence more. What I’d like to have read would have been some Tom Clancy or something. Or perhaps Alastair MacClean or Ian Fleming if it had to be something a bit older.* Something with some bloody excitement in, for Christ’s sake. So if at the start of a new term the English teacher had plopped a copy of Smithereens on my desk it might have induced feelings of suicide, though not for the reasons that have been suggested, but they would quickly have given way to narcolepsy and catatonia.** And that’s it.

Maybe it’s different if you’re a parent. Maybe I’d also send my offspring off each day with a little part of my mind gibbering and fretting about their safety and their wellbeing until I saw them again each evening. Actually I’m sure I would, but I hope I’d also recognise that they’re likely to be little different from the rest of us at the same age. So despite the headline that made me think it’d be more of this or this the thing I’m really unsure about is just the appeal to kids of that age and wether it can tear them away from fluffy and non-violent things like World of Modern Zombie Warfare Combatcraft 2. And Facebook.

So why the hell are they actually bothering? Ah, silly me, the answer has been staring me in the face all the time. Looks like they’re afraid of someone suing for compo.

If a student harmed themselves after reading it, the school could be in breach of its duty of care.

And they’re worried about the stuff in the book making people depressed? What the fuck do they think their reaction to it is doing?

* Just about everyone read Lord of the Rings themselves. Boys’ school. I imagine it’s normal.
** The thought of Cerys Matthews might have woken everyone up again. Boys’ school. Probably normal as well.

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Posted on February 17, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on What did you learn in school today, hon?.

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