It is common to hear people lamenting that young people don’t read enough these days. At least they have to read books in school—right? But what if the content of the books they have to read in school is dysfunctional, disturbing and harmful? What if the material that our children were given to read in secondary school was such that I couldn’t quote it here in this column without being censored?
That was the substance of a question asked in the Dail this past week by Limerick TD Willie O’Dea: “Many of the texts and films… for the English curriculum in secondary schools here contain explicit, graphic sexual content including sex between older adults and minors, bestiality and violence including torture”.
The Education Minister, Norma Foley, pointed out that schools and teachers are free to pick what books and films they study, but the reality is that those must come from within a list given by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
A group of parents have undertaken the mammoth task of reviewing the contents of those recommended lists. Their conclusion is that 52% of the Leaving Cert recommendations have inappropriate, graphic and offensive sexual content—including sexual activity between adults and minors, rape, graphic descriptions of oral sex and torture. 48% deal with murder, suicide and tragic unnatural death. 20% use copious amounts of crude and vulgar sexual slang—language utterly unacceptable in any other part of the school. 16% of current list were previously banned in public libraries and schools in the UK and USA. Not all the books are bad, but there is an increasing imbalance to the list which makes it hard for schools to avoid what they may consider inappropriate material.
It seems that the list of recommended books has taken a turn from 2014 onwards towards highly sexualised and darker texts. And many more socially helpful themes are utterly absent or neglected: grief, bereavement, loneliness, mental illness, cultural diversity, redemption, positive role-models etc.
This is all deeply concerning for several reasons:
- It places children in a position where they are forced to engage with a level of gratuitous sexual activity and violence presented in highly pornographic forms. Because English is compulsory, and the text selection imbalanced, this is tantamount to the emotional abuse of children.
- Even though presented in a dystopian framework, it still anaesthetises the mind to awful brutality, and fails to set before young men and women positive models of how to engage with each other. It underlines the dystopian worlds of internet pornography and video game violence rather than offering an alternative. There are few if any positive role models in the set texts for men to emulate. Women are portrayed as the objects of sexual gratification—whether positively or negatively.
- It fails to present our young people with a balanced view of the world in which they live, denying them the opportunity to engage with accounts of resilience, courage, character, or how to cope with the trials which they will face.
- I am in schools often enough to see that our young people live at a time where there is a famine of hope, where despair is sucking the life out of many. Yet here they are forced to engage with books whose themes are intentionally dark, with a preponderant focus on death. This is not what they need.
Literature has glorious capabilities—to fuel the imagination, to inspire, to exemplify character, to offer hope, to give direction. Sadly these opportunities are being missed here in Ireland.
Let me encourage you as parents to be aware of what your children are reading. You can find out more detailed reviews of most of the books at ‘Irish Parents Review the English Curriculum’ (www.irishparents.blogspot.com). You can find out more of an overview in the YouTube videos linked from the same page.
And more than simply being informed, take time to talk with the head teacher, or English teacher, or to email the NCCA with your concerns.
Written by Pastor Mark Loughridge, New Life Church Letterkenny Donegal