Friday, April 06, 2007

Are Old Books Always Better?

Read Roger has a post up, Dutch Trick or Treat about many things (books out of copyright, homeschooling, etc.) but the part I'm focusing on is the question of parents and old books and the content of some of those older books. You know, the type of thing that was OK to say 50 or 100 or 150 years ago, but now, would get you arrested. Or at least, unable to ever run for political office. I'm not talking the difference between PC and not PC; I'm talking factual errors, or beliefs that are either no longer held or have been long disproved. And yes, usually it is racist. Roger has a great illustrative quote.

At the library, and sometimes on the Internet, I've heard parents who either explicitly or implicitly state that older books are always better. (And that's parents across the board; not a homeschooling thing. An individual parent thing.) And often these same parents are the ones who want "clean" books (no sex, no swearing.) And it always leaves me puzzled as to why certain prejudices are OK to have in books if they are old. Or is it that the parents just don't remember the prejudices? Or is it really worse to read the word "hell" or "damn" but it's OK to have all Italians be one way, all Irish as drunks, etc?

Anyway, an interesting post. Based on the homeschooling blogs I read that speak highly of Charlotte Mason, the parents read and use many new(er) books, also. I'm not sure how they address older books that they would like to use that has objectionable material; I'm pretty sure I've seen a post or two that says yes, we're aware of it and balance it with other books / materials / use it as a teachable moment.


Anonymous said...
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Liz B said...

Sometime spam gets thru despite all efforts. If its spam, or with a spam link, I will delete it.

Moving right along...

Occidental Girl said...

Yes, I agree. I wrote a comment on Roger's blog about how I think that while books such as these shouldn't be texts, their existence would be interesting as an illustration of past prejudices, as to how society was constructed then, and not how it should be now or that it would be in any way ideal.

What I find ironic is how, in the writings of Charlotte Mason that I have skimmed, she writes that the mother should be in charge of the children's learning, guiding a governess if need be - but fully at the helm of educational decision making with regard to what the children should be learning and why. Ironic, because we're talking about the Victorian era, where ladies were viewed as naturally dim and unsuited for higher education. And so, the thinking seems to have been, let's task those nitwits with teaching the next generation!

How amusing.

Kelly said...

I don't believe older books are necessarily better. I do think from each generation, there will be 10 or so standout books that carry forward.

That being said, I think it's hard to ignore the quality of children's and Young Adult literature of the moment. Compared to when I was a reading child in the 1970s, overall quality and choice for children is infinitely better NOW.

Jill said...

I went to a lecture just yesterday which was really excellent except for its insistence that no worthwhile picturebooks for children had been published after 1945.

Then again, it was a Humanities lecture (capital H), and I find that the social sciences tend to be much more willing to embrace not just contemporism, but also a general level of respect for people who aren't dead. (As a somewhat unimportant but meaningful example, the refreshments served at this event were all meat-based sandwiches - inappropriate for Passover and inappropriate for a primarily vegetarian audience.)

Karen G. said...

I would be interested, occidental girl, to be pointed toward some of the relevant source material which would indicate that the Victorians viewed women as "dim" or "nitwits." In my reading of Victorian sources, I have not found this to be so. While it is true that women were generally not given the traditional "classical" education of Latin and Greek, it was more because their position in life and society did not require it of them than because they were considered dim. You can cast a ballot today because women of the Victorian era began to agitate for a more equal position in society, but their general intelligence was not in question.

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