Today I’m going to share a little story from when I was in grade three.
I crossed my legs. Then I uncrossed them and crossed them the other way. The floor was hard under my bum and I wonder if the ugly, gray carpet provided any protection from the linoleum. It was moments before the first few branches of my delicate innocence would be hacked off. The teacher was explaining the basics of narratives. “Stories need a beginning, a middle and an end,” she said. I kept picking at the awful carpet, unraveling it, strand, by strand, by strand.
Then, with eight words, came the chainsaw. “And every story needs to have a problem.”
I looked up, eyes wide with astonishment, feeling as though the carpet had been pulled from under me.
“But, but! Not every story needs a problem, right?” I protested. “There can be stories without problems, can’t there?”
“Every story needs a problem,” she repeated, bringing the saw to my heart. To my soul.
I’ve never lost any of my innocence to experience. It’s always teachers and literature. They stole (and continue to steal) it from me. But it wasn’t something they could keep for themselves. They take it and throw it away. As if my innocence was not a right or even a privilege, but an illness to be cured.
I used to be an idealist. Does that have to be synonymous with naïve? Now, I don’t know what I am. I try to hold on. I stand in front of the (metaphoric) bulldozers, holding up signs. I chain myself to the tree. I don’t want to hear the harsh truths, to face the problems that are always there, in both books and in real life.
Now that I’m older, I am actually able to fully comprehend the point about stories needing problems. I only (fully) understood this point once I read a story (okay, it was a comic strip, the “Archie Marries Betty/Archie Marries Veronica” serial) in which THERE ARE NO PROBLEMS. And that gets boring. Really boring, really fast.
Did you notice that I was only able to fully understand and internalize that lesson once I had actually seen, with my very own eyes, what happens when a story doesn’t have a problem? Maybe ‘loss of innocence’ isn’t always such a bad thing. It’s an inevitable part of living life, and perhaps even an important part. But I think it should come from experience, not be taught in school.
(Although, as a side note, I wonder if most ‘normal’ people would count learning that “stories have problems” as losing one’s innocence. I guess normal people might not ‘get’ me. And I’m okay with that, I didn’t ask them too.)
So, do you think the stuff they teach kids in school constitutes stealing their innocence? How do you feel about that?