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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Being Salt in a World Full of Grit

I see that you have Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury - it is full of swearing .....I was appalled when my 13 year old had to read it last year.
-SW


Dear SW,

Since we, as Christians are to be light in the world, and salt to a lost world; not hidden under baskets and therefore unsalty, we realize we've been directed by God that we should not pull away and separate ourselves, else how shall we love our neighbor and be salt and light to them?

We also realize that even when we are in public, for example, shopping at the mall or grocery store, we are going to hear the world speaking as they speak, and this may include inappropriate language. If we, as parents, bring undue attention to it each time we hear it by pointing it out to our children, we give it too much power and attention in our children's minds. A better course is to walk on by and not pay attention to it, as our children certainly have been taught and know it is inappropriate.

You are correct that there is more swearing in Fahrenheit 451 than in any other book for which we carry a study guide, and that caused us some concern in preparing a guide for the book. However, we decided that it carried an important message, was a culturally important novel, and had many elements that would lead to thoughtful, biblical discussion, so we proceeded with the study guide. Because of the swearing, the "Note to Instructor" for the study guide contains this statement:

  • Note on Swearing: Fahrenheit 451 contains a number of times when characters misuse the name of God and swear. Progeny Press in no way endorses or tolerates the use of such language by children or Christian believers. However, we recognize the unpleasant fact that nonbelievers and those without such qualms do, and will continue to, use such language, and so some novels representing the world as it is will reproduce such language. We believe that mature students of this grade level should be able to recognize swearing as something practiced in the world, but not to be copied or practiced in their own lives. Also, the subject of Fahrenheit 451 is the censorship of all ideas that are unpleasant or offensive to any person, which eliminates the free exchange of any ideas. With that in mind, and faith in the sustaining and redeeming power of God, we have produced this study guide for Fahrenheit 451.

You mentioned that your 13-year-old had to read this novel a year ago, but I am unclear why a child of this age would "have" to read it. We would never recommend this book to someone of that age because of the swearing and other elements of the novel. For this reason we have placed Fahrenheit 451 in the 10-12 grade level, and we often recommend waiting until grade 11 or 12. We certainly would not have recommended your child read the novel at age 13.

We have noticed a trend in some private schools and among some homeschoolers to push children who are mature and read well into reading books of more mature nature, such as 5th graders reading Macbeth. We disagree with this approach. There are some books that contain material that is applicable to and understandable by older children, but that younger children simply do not have the spiritual, emotional, and life experience to deal with. Younger children may have the ability to read the story and understand the story but do not have the ability to understand the issues in the story. We would place Macbeth, The Great Gatsby, and Fahrenheit 451 squarely within this category. Lord of the Flies is another example: it contains violence and images that I would not want my young children, including my young teenage children, to read and to have in their heads. But most older teenagers have the mental, emotional, and spiritual maturity to read the book and discuss the ideas behind the imagery--they can see past them and discuss what is in the hearts of people that leads to greed and violence, what happens to people when social and societal restraints are removed, why we see violence in society around us. By using books such as this in conjunction with the Bible, we can help our older children understand and deal with our society and human nature.

We are sorry that your experience with Fahrenheit 451 occurred as it did, and we hope you understand that this is not how we would have recommended the book be used. We agree with you that there are many more appropriate books for a 13-year-old to read and discuss, books that can help a child to prepare for the weightier things of life, not drop him or her into the middle of them.

May God grant us wisdom and grace in raising and training our children!




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