The Politicization of Children’s Books

On the bookshelf of a local store

I was dismayed to see the above display in the book section of a local big box store. Why should children who are only beginning to read, or who can’t read at all, be subjected to these kinds of books?

I implore you parents, regardless of your political leanings, resist such books. Let’s allow children to be children, free from the politicization that threatens to encroach into every area of modern life. We’ve descended into an abyss so dark that even traditional venues of escape, such as sporting events, aren’t free of politics. Until quite recently, children were largely insulated. Of course, there have always been parents too ignorant or fanatical to leave their children at home while they protest, but they were a minority.

After my recent encounters with the Feminist Baby books, this children’s collection of election season literature shouldn’t have been a shock. Somehow, it still was. The usefulness of the books eluded me, and so I briefly lost sight that our culture has long abandoned usefulness right long with truth, beauty, goodness and innocence.

Books that children read, or that we read to them, should impart wonder, magic, loveliness, and wisdom. The beauty of a children’s book is that it can do all of these things in challenging yet non-threatening ways. Books invite children to see timeless truths through new, creative, imaginative lenses. Neverland, Narnia, Wonderland, and even Hogwarts are portals to faraway lands allowing children to dream and appreciate the power of stories.

Our climate has now become so toxic that even well-meaning parents, inundated with the so-called urgency of the moment, can lose their way, corrupting kids’ ability to be kids, unburdened by adult concerns . Let me offer some unsolicited advice.

  • Your three-your-old does not need to be implored to vote.
  • Our children don’t need to take a position on issues that don’t even understand.
  • Childhood is being assaulted daily without additional pressures added.
  • Contrary to foolish propaganda, children by definition are ill-equipped to offer substantive input on complex moral and cultural issues. To ask them to do so is tantamount to emotional abuse.

I hope that none of these ridiculous books sell many copies. There is so much more for children to discover from literature than the banality of modern politics. Here are a few reviews to much better childhood reading fare:

What’s your opinion on the increasing politicization of childhood being reflected in books for sale to children?

Poetry: Sir Orfeo

Sir Orfeo, as translated by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Our kids are studying Medieval literature this year. This necessarily means that my reading of The Brothers Karamazov, as well as other personal reading, will be interspersed with readings of Medieval inspired books and poetry.

Sir Orfeo is a poem believed to be originally penned around the 13th century. It is the lyrical, pleasant-reading story of King Orfeo. Orfeo is a happy king enjoying his life, his harp, and his fair wife, Heurodis. 

Sir Orfeo was a king of old,
in England lordship high did hold;
valour he had and hardihood,
a courteous king whose gifts were good.
His father from King Pluto came,
his mother from Juno, king of fame,
who once of old as gods were named
for mighty deeds they did and claimed.
Sir Orfeo, too, all things beyond
of harping’s sweet delight was fond,
and sure were all good harpers there
of him to earn them honour fair;
himself he loved to touch the harp
and pluck the strings with fingers sharp.
He played so well, beneath the sun
a better harper was there none;
no man hath in this world been born
who would not, hearing him, have sworn
that as before him Orfeo played
to joy of Paradise he had strayed
and sound of harpers heavenly,
such joy was there and melody.
This king abode in Tracience,
a city proud of stout defence;
for Winchester, ’tis certain, then
as Tracience was known to men.
There dwelt his queen in fairest bliss,
whom men called Lady Heurodis,
of ladies then the one most fair
who ever flesh and blood did wear;
in her did grace and goodness dwell,
but none her loveliness can tell

Not long after their introduction, Orfeo and Heurodis’ idyllic life is disrupted when she is kidnapped by the magic of the Faerie king and whisked away from her husband and home.It is, as I mentioned, Medieval literature. As such it is replete with all that the period entails; magic, darkness, and sufferings. 

What follows is 10 years of suffering and grief for Orfeo, who cannot bear to reign without his queen by his side. He wanders through the forests, aimlessly and bereft of hope until one day, he spots his beloved Heurodis. In addition to the suffering, Medieval literature also offers its readers romance, gallantry, and light. 

I don’t wish to give away any more spoilers, so you can read it here for free to discover what follows. It is far less linear than you might assume. There is much more to discover than have even begin to unpack here.

 It really is a beautiful piece of narrative poetry.

Dostoyevsky: Atheism–> Socialism–>The Tower of Babel

I am savoring my journey through Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. It’s not a story to rush through. Even if I wasn’t a slow reader to begin with, this is a thoughtful book that deserves a measure of contemplation as you go through it. The story is rich, compelling, and complex and I’m only through the first one-third of it. For this week’s Friday Fave I decided to share a quote from the beginning of the book. Despite having read it a week ago, it repeatedly floats back to the top of my consciousness at regular intervals. I’d love it if any of you find it intriguing enough to weigh in and share your perceptions. Here, the author introduces the beliefs and lifestyle of Aloysha, the youngest of the Karamazov brothers:
As soon as he reflected seriously he was convinced of the existence of God and immortality, and at once he instinctively said to himself: “I want to live for immortality and I will accept no compromise.” In the same way, if he had decided that God and immortality did not exist, he would at once have become an atheist and a socialist. For socialism is not merely the labour question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism to-day, the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to heaven from earth but to set up heaven on earth. Aloysha would have found it strange and impossible to go on living as before.
The question occurs to me again and again: how often do we, having ostensibly reached some profound conclusion about the nature of life, continue to go on living as before?This beautiful quote about the trajectory of Aloysha’s resolve resonates with me. I am reminded of a much less eloquent quote that is, as far as I am aware, unattributed:
We live what we believe. Everything else is just talk.

The Highwaymen: Art Devoid of Affectations

We recently went to a museum to tour a limited run exhibit of art by the Florida Highwaymen. I’ve written a little about them before. They were unique, unconventional and successful for a time despite being uninterested in art for art’s sake. These men –and one woman- seemed to be void of any desire to make a name for themselves. They were in the thing to make rent. They even allowed their commissioned salesman, a fast talker from the neighborhood, to occasionally sign his name on their work if it would facilitate a sale or fetch a better price.

As we toured the exhibit I overheard two women discussing the fact that most of these men were not serious, studied artists. It wasn’t the first time I’d encountered this analysis of the Highway men; this implication they weren’t genuine artists. They painted and sold for volume, rather than for a deep love of their craft. This is undoubtedly true, but I view that as a testament to their accomplishment rather than a detraction from it.

Rather than pining for some imaginary life that they thought they deserved, they made hay while the sun shone. Are y’all familiar with that colloquialism? It’s equivalent to striking while the iron is hot, which perfectly encapsulates the trajectory of The Highwaymen. Most possessed natural artistic aptitude, but this was a time when it was particularly difficult for men of their ethnic and socioeconomic background to make a good living. Art school was not a priority for most of them, although a well-regarded local artist guided and heavily influenced their early work.

The cool thing about the these guys, besides the fact that they were able to make a decent living selling paintings that they churned out by firelight while drinking beer in Alfred Hair’s backyard, was their novel interpretation Florida’s natural beauty. They may not have been serious about art for art’s sake, but they captured Florida’s Poinciana trees, wild back country, and vibrant evening sunsets in vivid, Technicolor detail.

Most of the painting were produced on Upson board rather than canvas, because it was cheaper to buy in bulk and it got the job done. Their art sold because of its authenticity, quality, and lack of affectation. These men painted Florida as they saw it around them every day. What they lacked in artistic passion, they made up for with a passion for their subject matter.

Perhaps my roots are showing, but everything about the way this art was developed, presented, and marketed speaks to me. It’s the way I understand earthiness and authenticity. I love The David, The Mona Lisa and The Banjo Lesson as much as any other person who appreciates art and beauty. This art, which depicts my home, by artists who share the same roots and appreciation of the uniqueness that is this place, affects me in a more visceral way.

Their story magnifies rather than diminishes their legacy. At least, that’s the way I see it.

Friday Faves: Real Florida

Though far less dramatic for us than much of the country, the start to our school year has been a hectic one. I’d planned a philosophical education post in honor of the inauspicious national beginning to the 2020 school calendar, but life crowded out the time I’d planned to use for that.

I took it as a sign that now isn’t the time for my pontificating. We are awash in the opinions of every Tom, Dick, and Harry right now. That’s not even counting the random musings of every Mary, Jane, and Sue! Increased digital noise is the last thing we need. As a relief from it, I decided to treat my scant few readers to some extremely amateur photography of scenery so beautiful that the amateurish nature of the shots will be easily forgiven.

Our family is enjoying a revelation of sorts. Despite having lived in Florida my entire life, I’ve neglected to explore this place that has drawn people to its beauty from its earliest settlements. Lately, our family has been doing exactly that, and it has been a time of respite and joy.

The belief that Florida is most easily described as theme parks, shorelines and hurricanes neglects the unique character of this place. Embarrassingly, I labored under the same delusions for most of my younger years, making exceptions for St. Augustine. Most people are familiar with it as the oldest remaining European settlement in what was then the New World. However, there is no much more here, and every Sunday since the quarantine began, we’ve been exploring Florida off the beaten path.

Enjoy some the images of Florida that you may not be familiar with:

I’ll assault you with the digital noise of my philosophical pontificating sometime next week.

Until then, have a great weekend. And, if you can take the heat, go outside!

Word Nerd Wednesday: Metanoia

I was a part of an education training recently and one of the books we touched on was Plato’s Five Dialogues. I hope to have more to say about this book at a later date. Today, however, I want to explore a word we discussed as we contemplated our chief educational aim, which is to teach our students to pursue virtue. Today’s word is metanoia.

Anyone who has done a Greek word study of the Bible’s new testament is familiar with the word metanoia as the direct translation of the word repent. At its core, that’s what metanoia is; a turning away from one way of thinking and believing to another. It’s a perfect description of our religious conversion, but what does metanoia look like in a more general educational context? Or in any area of life?

The word metanoia speaks to me because there are a number of philosophical and political issues through which I went on a journey of metanoia, as described in the above definition. This journey, in the context of Socratic education philosophy, is taken together with one’s teacher through a series of questions and propositions crafted to make the student think. It can, however, be taken through personal research, contemplation, and prayer. We just have to be willing to interrogate ourselves.

Both of these, whether personal or with a teacher, indicate wrestling and grappling with ideas. To do this demands questioning our own presuppositions in search of  greater truth. That wrestling and any resulting change of heart is the journey of metanoia.

There isn’t much room for metanoia in our world today. We live in a world increasingly devoid of wrestling, meditation, enlightenment or repentance. To wrestle with what we believe is true, even in the face of mountains of evidence and thousands of years of documented human experience and understanding, is anathema to the post modern soul.

This lack of introspective meditation, this lack of metanoia, combined with tearing down fences without regard for the wisdom of those who went before us, is a primary characteristic of the postmodern era, and it’s becoming our undoing. Chesterton’s fence is an excellent touch-point reference:

As simple as Chesterton’s Fence is as a principle, it teaches us an important lesson. Many of the problems we face in life occur when we intervene with systems without an awareness of what the consequences could be. We can easily forget that this applies to subtraction as much as to addition. If a fence exists, there is likely a reason for it. It may be an illogical or inconsequential reason, but it is a reason nonetheless.

Chesterton also alluded to the all-too-common belief that previous generations were bumbling fools, stumbling around, constructing fences wherever they fancied. Should we fail to respect their judgement and not try to understand it, we run the risk of creating new, unexpected problems. By and large, people do not do things for no reason. We’re all lazy at heart. We don’t like to waste time and resources on useless fences. Not understanding something does not mean it must be pointless.

This is why it is vitally important that we educate our children on the pursuit of virtue. A surfeit of academic exposure without the corresponding ability to use those intellectual storehouses to the meaningful benefit of others renders our education little more than fool’s gold.

Of course, we are all basically lazy at heart, and metanoia requires something of a mental workout. Workouts that produce lasting transformation are hard. To quote my favorite video workout dude:

If was easy, everybody would be doing it.