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Elevating Our Standards: A Revolution in Young Adult Literature

Article excerpt

The youth of today want literature that reflects their potential, their desire to transform the world and their love of truth

Many of us have heard the adage, "You are what you eat." We recognize inherently that healthy eating makes you into a healthy person. Over the last 30 years our society has seen the underlying truth of this correlation. As Americans have become more and more health conscious, a revolution in nutritional education and practice has occurred, especially where children are concerned. Parents are warned about the issues of childhood obesity and other problems stemming from improper nutrition. Grocery stores offer more fresh fruits and vegetables, and nutritional labels appear on all packaged foods. Schools replaced soda and sugary snacks with more healthful options. What parents these days would allow their children to subsist on a diet consisting solely of junk food- even if that's what the child asked for? What school would allow its lunch room to offer only foods detrimental to students' health- even if those are the very foods students wanted?

The truth of that old adage applies not only to physical food, but to intellectual nourishment as well. As educators we realize that the "food" with which we nourish minds is as important to our health as what we feed our bodies. For this reason, the literature that we encourage our students to read should be wholesome, beneficial and healthy, just like the food we encourage them to eat. In a very real way, what we read shapes who we are. Our values, our hopes and dreams, our attitudes and outlook on life- these are largely formed by what we put in our minds.

Just as our country went through a radical shift in its nutrition standards, there is a revolution underway in the standards of literature and education. Interestingly enough, this revolution is being incited not by officials or educators or parents, but by young adults themselves. Today's youth are clamoring for a new era of young adult literature.

The previous era of young adult literature, begun over half a century ago, no longer reflects the mindset, values or goals of modern adolescents. The young adult literature of the 1950s and '60s reflected the nihilistic, deconstructivist worldview that swept through philosophy and academia in the early 20th century. This philosophy slowly trickled down into the literature and culture of our society, with effects on media, education and arts that can still be felt half a century later.

One of the most damaging effects was in our culture's view of adolescence. Teenagers came to be seen as inherently distrustful, rebellious and self-centered. Gone was the law-abiding, authority-respecting, enthusiastic, young-adult. Unfortunately, the emergence of a genre of literature aimed at a young-adult audience coincided with this disintegrated view of adolescence.

Eacer Minds, Not Rebels

As a first-year teacher I, too, bought into this misguided opinion of adolescence. I expected to face a classroom full of students who were skeptical and cynical, and I had unconsciously placed myself on the defensive. What I found instead was a classroom full of eager minds- students who were tired of the clichéd image of rebellious teenagers, young people full of innocence and goodness who desired to make a difference in the world. They certainly challenged me to redefine my view of adolescence.

Young people today want to return to what is lasting, what is true and good, what is right and honorable and heroic. Adolescents are searching for literature that accurately expresses their culture and values. They want books that reflect their youthful idealism rather than rebellious disobedience, their bright optimism rather than brooding cynicism, and their desire to help others rather than a selfish egoism. As much as they may like an occasional taste of junk food, they know the importance of real, healthy food.

Unfortunately, much of what is available, even newly published books, is still trapped in the mindset of the past 50 years. …