How many of you went to school as far back as the 1950s or earlier? What about the later years, and then the end of the Cold War? Can anyone tell what was written in your textbook’s pages at each of the aforementioned decades? How many of you with children have even bothered to take a look at the copyright and publishing year of your child or children’s schoolbooks? Has anyone bothered to look at the books currently being thrown out there on your bookstore and library shelves? Wow, awful. Just awful.
Does anyone even bother to read history based books nowadays? Well, what about English literature books? Let’s take a look at the two examples I’m about to show you.
In the ’50s history books, one could picture the satellite named Sputnik, launched by the Soviet Union, as it was called. In this decade, we see the decade of the Baby Boom, the events occurring post-World War II. There was not as much to fall back on as there is now. However, aside from the world events and Sputnik and all that, there were deeper issues affecting American people.
First, the books were what Diane Ravitch calls “Eurocentric.” As I see it, a young girl in the Baby Boom times would be expected to think about getting a small side job or marriage. But, for some young women, life was hopeless. The ’50s had a huge dark side, something that today’s youth are not even allowed to read about because, according to some bias “experts”, it’s “offensive” to African American youth. Do these youngsters have a right to know how hard it was for their elders? Well, yes, they do.
In the latter half of the Twentieth century, there was so much in the way of social change. First, today’s youth are naive to the fact that when their grandparents were growing up in the Boom Times, these people were often turned away from their preferred hangouts because the signs on the places they loved had ben engraved with “whites only.” You could not drive down a road in the South parts of this nation without seeing signs marking which way a white person would go, and the other sign would simply say “colored.” Excuse me for living, but we’re all colored because at least we are colored with pigments, and if I wish anything on the bigoted political buttheads who lived in that time, I would wish that they would open their eyes, or close the physical ones and live as I do, forgetting that I know how African Americans often sound. The rhythm of their voices is amazingly awesome, and I will say though that Barack Obama’s voice is extremely put together, and people making fun of “ebonic” dialect should take note. Obama’s family should be upheld for their tolerance and color blindness, the blindness that tells us not to judge someone by the color of their skin.
I never cared one way or another whether someone was black or white, but I can’t help but notice how some people talk. Our voices whether we’re black or white develop according to the kinds of voices around us. Scientists have indeed done studies on this stuf. Even babies are aware of their mother’s rhythm and dialect, so if I’m talking a certain way, a baby will likely by six years old be speaking the same way.
In the current history and literature in schools, the colorful dialect that every ethnicity comes with, except when they are professional and grow up in assimilated families, is being thrown to the dogs. No person in today’s schools ever gets anything current out of the history. As Ravitch shows in her chapters on history and literature in her book The Language Police, books and textbooks as well as reading samples have become nothing more than bland food. Blah blah blah.
I personally grew up reading classics. I enjoyed the books because I could escape into the pages, and it felt like I had just passed through a time warp. I could go anywhere in a book, and there I would be sitting in a frontier era log cabin with Laura Ingals in Wisconsin as her Pa Charles Ingals is playing his fiddle or away hunting a bear. Meanwhile, Ma and Mary and Laura are in the house doing various chores, playing small games, and awaiting the return of Pa. When Pa and Ma and the children sit at the table, everybody is well mannered, speaks in perfect fluid tongue, never swears for fear that Pa or Ma could “tan the hide” of the child who swore at all. A decade later, as I scroll through the Little House series, I find myself seeing a stark difference between Mary Ingals and my blind self today. However, since Mary will never marry, most of the last book focuses on Laura and her teaching in a small town. Pa stuffs away some money for his darling Mary so she can go to college with other blind folks. However, as Deborah Kent Stein writes in her essay entitled “A Choice of Virtues”, the sisters seem “struck” by Mary’s supposed independence, but Mrs. Stein later spoke that Mary’s study of the organ and independent living skills turned into empty memories, and she is confined in a way to the rocking chair. Mrs. Stein compares her in stark contrast to another classic literary character I will discuss in a future post, but I better stop now.
I would never know how Mary lived in that time had I never been exposed to such a gem. Laura Ingals Wilder’s novels tell us a great deal about the Frontier family life, and then later, I would scroll to the end. My favorite part of the last book, These Happy Golden Years, and I will say this with pride, was when Laura and her sweetheart Almanzo finally moved in to that farmhouse that he had built for her. Even so, Laura still worked the farm, took care of animals, and gave birth to her daughter, Rose. Rose later grew up, but we won’t go any further. I wish I read the First Four Years, I know I should have.
Another time window I enjoy exploring is ancient civilizations all around the world. I actually think I could hit myself for not mentioning a current literary gem that I so wish could be piled upon the university reading lists for college. This book I would not recommend for anyone in high school unless they were studying Ancient Rome. Here is what this thing is about.
Virgin Slave, Barbarian King is not available on Bard to my knowledge, so you Bookshare readers will find it in Braille or MP3 format. The moment I opened the book, I suddenly felt my little window of imagination going right through my apartment, falling into an Ancient Roman city. I was in some way right there beside Julia Livia Rufa, the daughter of a prominent Patrician senator. Oh, and may I add that students probably won’t hear that word, Patrician again unless someone wakes up and writes it in a history book.
Patricians are the nobles, and in the Roman Empire at the end of its days had a chaotic governing body, but in this story, young Julia was captured by a marauding band of “barbarians”, and made to keep house in the tent that also housed the master, Wulfric who was to become the contender for a Barbarian throne. I won’t spoil the whole book. Sorry, no spoilers. It is so good, and there is some love scenes and Julia gains a real understanding of herself and … well, just let me shut up and you all can see how this book reads.
Not all books are like a time warp that sends me to a different dimension. Some books take place in imaginative worlds. My favorite author who does these includes Anne McCaffrey. She has been known to have written an entire world’s worth of great gems and gold mines. She writes about great ideas, particularly in the Dragonriders of Pern series. Where have these books ben lately? And guess how I got hooked on her books? You would be shocked. I started becoming addicted to McCaffrey’s novels because, well, I was sitting in my middle school English class studying a short story of hers. The Smallest Dragonboy was the first ever story written by her that became a catalyst for my personal fandom of McCaffrey’s writings. Since then, I have literally visited the worlds she has created through readings of her books. I have read just about the entire Acorna series, a group of books about a young alien girl called Acorna, or “Khornya” by her people, and she goes on many adventures. You just have to start with the very first book, coauthored by Margaret Ball, which finds her in a special survival pod and discovered by space miners working on an asteroid. Then, … well, if you really are curious, pick up the first book, and continue through these books, and relax and just enjoy the scenery. My favorite setting so far that Mrs. McCaffrey has created is the world Acorna originates from. There is a moon above it, and Acorna’s people seem peaceable. While reading about Acorna’s aunt and family relations and the friends she makes, there is no hint that there is any such thing as war. The only real problem arises when an alien enemy race tries to destroy Acorna’s family, and they somehow kill her mother and deform her mate and kill his brother. But please read these books, and be amazed by the author’s imaginative way of putting things together.
I have some hints about some of the things she used to design her characters and ideas. I can’t help but notice that it’s something a lot of real good science fiction and fantasy authors do. For instance, Hafiz Harakamian sounds a lot like an Arabic name. Rafik sounds somehow a cross between Rafiki (Swahili for friend) or it could have Arabic origin. It’s obvious when reading some of the last books that other ethnic group names and places that are real were used to create the story. In McCaffrey’s worlds, actual real kinds of people come together and meet on different planets. The Solojo Star System sounds like it has Spanish origin. And the Android brother created for Acorna’s daughter, Khorii was named Elviiz (can you see the pun?), which was an “ancient Terran king.” Um, I can see that someone was obsessed with “Elvis” who was no king, but we did say he was the “King of Rock and Roll.” That was a real guy, but seriously? I thought that was clever!
If that small clip had not been present in the old text book that was sitting on my desk at St. Teresa’s School, and had my dear favorite Fugwumpy mother (don’t ask too many questions) not taught something about it, I think it was her, I would not have gotten so into this author’s work.
Lots of authors use a lot of actual social ideas reflected in the real world. I would read the Giver series by Lois Lowry. Again, my dear English instructor made us all read it, but seriously, I slipped into a “perfect” world, but I could see right through into the dark underpinnings of such a world from the get go. Lowry shows us a world where among other things, disabled babies do not exist. If they did, they would be killed, and nobody would know it. Jonas is asked to watch a video of a small baby being injected with a lethal dose of poison, and that does it for him. He is resolved on taking off with the child … okay, if you watched the movie, you would know a few things.
However, the book has some integral parts the movie was missing. I won’t go further, except that the other books in the Giver series show us worlds we would never use to analyze where we ourselves are going. Gathering Blue, which is a popular American book for its time, shows us that there is cruelty wherever you turn, but Kira, the main character, is one strong girl who shows us that no matter the circumstance, a bent leg or no eyes or a bent-tailed dog could not stop her from figuring out where she originated. When she figures out who her father is, well, a real amazing thing happens. Clever though she is, Kira has to use her gift to figure out what to do for her fallen civilization.
I will not give away the finale.
Since all of us have been exposed to the Hunger Games, I will omit any content on this series. There are so many great works of literature I love. And I have school to thank for it all.
Now, what book series will the young families eventualy find for their children? Let’s go on a little trip to … hmmm, 2050?
Imagine for a moment that a family is together in said house. Now, the children are in school. Think about what bland crap these kids are going to read. Where is the great literature that I mentioned above? Will there be any copies of Touch the Top of the World by Erik Weihenmayer? Maybe not, all because the bias police may state that blind people being heroes on mountainsides overexaggerates the achievements attributed to disabled people. Well, that’s bunk.
Children of all kinds need to be reading classics, looking through the windows of time and space, feeling the emotions of the characters in a book. I have felt these emotions before. I was reading a Gloria Whelan piece entitled “Homeless Bird.” This book starts us in a rural Indian village in Southeast Asia. Note that the term Indian is used to denote people in India, remember? I personally will classify the other “Indian” as the proper term, Native American or First Nations.
Well, in the rural Indian village, a young mother, maybe a middle aged woman, says to her young daughter, the first line even, “Koly, you are thirteen years old and growing every day. It’s time to find you a husband.” Now, if any young woman reading this was thirteen, I could only imagine how much early marriage would scare you, but this book tells us that it was common in the rural villages for teens to be forcibly married off for a dowry. Upon Koly’s hearing this, she is stunned. She is emotional about the upcoming match approved for her, and as Whelan pours in to Koly’s character, we see her sitting with an embroidery needle, stitching away her worries, trying to remember the things that she loves, the pleasantries of her home village.
What got me emotional was when I reached toward one scene at the end. I’ll try my best not to spoil this, but Koly was dating this awesome guy, Raji. Koly taught the boy to read and write, and they hit it off so well that … well, Koly was finally able to discern love. She finally begins to open her heart to someone, and Raji says he does not care whether she is a young widow abused by her sass, her mother-in-law from the previously arranged marriage. It was so emotional because all this time, Koly realized what was most important to her, and she was worried about losing a great job. But what really got me was how Mr. Daas her boss, a guy who runs a sari shop, was so pleased with her artistry that he said, “Look, you keep embroidering saris, and bring them to me when done.” Imagine, just think about this. Koly said she would keep working, and her boss asked her, “But how are you going to keep working with whining kids, housework, and other things?” Koly’s answer made me stunned. “Oh, the house won’t be so clean, the cooking won’t be as prepared, and the whining children will sit on my lap and I’ll sing to them while I work.” What got me even more emotional was the fact that Raji even accommodated his beloved, building her a personal workroom. Imagine if someone did that for you. Raji realizes that Koly is an intelligent woman, and it’s that kind of realization that allows him to see what is important to her.
It’s through this piece of literature that I’ve learned what love really is. I would never allow myself to be in an arranged or coercive dating or marriage situation. The first thing tht Raji says to Koly is that his parents, products of an arranged match, almost never have a conversation that stimulates them. He says that his Maa and Baap, Hindi for Mom and Dad, never really had reasons to say anything unless it had to do with the rice or the plants being wormy. Raji says that he wishes to talk to his wife, and that would denote he wants to converse with Koly. Funny that they met while she was being transported to Vrindavan, a widows’ city. But their relationship evolved so much. It was when they were sitting on the banks of the Yamuna River that this conversation about conversations was held.
When I read books at all, I find myself realizing that true heroes and heroines have more than just weapons and words. As my dear Canadian friend Tyson said once in a mood message on his Skype, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Indeed it is, and so is the needle, the brain, and the questions we ask.
Now, the Language Police are censoring so much literature that the emotions and the exhillarating plots and character references are being thrown into a trash bin. All this stuff, all this wonderful stuff! Excuse me? If I ever bear children for this lonely world of bland literature, God help me, I will show them the worlds I’ve explored, worlds where knights can be female, magic makes love happen, and almost real settings where young heroines are able to oppose the barriers placed in front of them. Like Koly, Laura, Jonas, and all the other book characters, we should learn what life could be like, is like, was like, in all the dimensions of time. Why the bland images and the regional bias problems? I would personally tell you I’d like to read books about life in the Cholistan Desert, which I confess I did. The series containing the character of Shabanu, daughter of the Wind, takes us to such a place. If one wants to visit mountains, why not read some of Gary Palsen’s books? He can go from the old Oregon Trail with Francis Tucket, maybe even further up to the Canadian Woodlands with Bryan and the animals he encounters. What about Island of the Blue Dolphins? It takes the reader to a solitary island, where a girl grows up in solitude and learns to fend for herself. What about Sing Down the Moon, another book by Scott O’Dell? This is a wonderful look into the windows of time when Navajo Nation tribes and clans populated the Canyons of New Mexico. Why the hell aren’t children able to read into these windows?
I can keep going to a higher level of literature for teens, and I personally think they should read the Birthmarked series, which features a young teenage midwife and asks a lot of critical questions about a world in which the disabled children are called freaks, and Gaia Stone herself does not have a particularly beautiful appearance in the mind of the people of an Enclave of rich folks who run Gaia’s life. This is a modern book, and I would recommend it for the analysis of social issues.
I confess I’ve read a play in college that contained a few uses of vulgarity, but we all know the college experience can be different.
The recommended readings I have here are the following:
The Language Police, Diane Ravitch,
Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan
Dick and Jane’s Victims
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Thank you all for dozing off as I took you through some crazy twists.