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There I was in the bookstore, minding my own business (not eavesdropping whatsoever). I was with my oldest child in the kids’ section when I overheard a very loud conversation between a mother and her son (my guess is he was in the second or third grade) that made me really uncomfortable:

Mother: “That book is not in your [reading] range. You need to pick a different book.”

Boy: “I already picked a book!”

Mother: “You need to pick a book that you can read.”

Boy: “But I AM reading!”

Mother: “You need to pick a book that’s at your level.”

Boy: “But little kid books SUCK!”

Mother: “If you don’t pick out a book here, then you’ll have to pick one from the library.”

Boy: “But I DID pick out a book! The library won’t let me pick a real book. The little kid books are boring!”

Obviously, I don’t know the whole story. Still . . . I couldn’t help but sympathize with this poor kid who just wanted to read a REAL book. I’ve taken this luxury for granted my entire life, thanks to my awesome parents.

I say, let the boy struggle through a challenging book, for crying out loud! He’ll love it!

No matter how painful and frustrating it is, the payoff when he finally gets something real out of a book will be more than worth it. Even if he barely gets a piece of its entirety, he will be so proud of that accomplishment, he’ll brag for days. Not to mention, he’ll never develop a fear of challenging books—the entire record of human knowledge will be within his reach, and he’ll be able to follow any pursuit he wants.

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I get it. The kid gets it. Is it really that hard to get? A mother’s fear of her son getting a bad grade in elementary school should be NOTHING compared to the fear that he might develop a permanent aversion to reading.

However . . . I find comfort in the thought that no matter what this mother tries to do, I don’t think she’ll really be able to stop him.

Not a kid that determined. No one will. Not for long. Not forever. He’ll continue to steal unforgettable moments of unhindered, unauthorized reading, just as he’d done before his mom discovered his treachery. This day’s victory was but the first of many more to come. He confronted the gates that were built to hold him back, and he peeked right through the wrought iron bars. Fearless. Dauntless. Like a true warrior. He glimpsed the seemingly endless world of knowledge and imagination, and there exists no power that could ever extinguish his curiosity.

What a futile effort it’ll be for anyone who ever tries to keep that kid under their thumb.

He’s not even finished with elementary school, and he’s already unfit for servitude. Well done, boy.

The more anyone presses down on his spirit, the more elusive he’ll learn to be. He’s already stopped caring about grades, and about the opinions of those presiding over his education. What progress at such a young age! True, he might grow tired of rebellion for a while, and might even try out the mind-numbing grind toward materialistic success for which those repulsive rules are designed. But deep down, a part of him will always be that little boy who’d storm the gates of hell to get his hands on a REAL book.

Librarian be damned! To Hades with the education system! Death to reading restrictions!

You fools who taught him the alphabet. You thought you’d be able to contain him. What arrogance! On the contrary, he is going to read every book in the library he wants, by hook or by crook.

And he won’t stop there.

He is going to sweep through the empire’s territories like a barbarian horde and ravage everything worded that suits his appetite. How could you arm this child with the capacity to educate himself, and think he wouldn’t exercise this power?

You might as well have said to a young Genghis, “Here is your horse and bow, now keep within this fenced off area, over here.”

Or to a maturing Blackbeard, “Here is a sturdy ship for you, please remain in sight of the shore at all times.”

The untold mischief this boy might bring to the world of rules and restrictions could reach catastrophic proportions. Jesus Christ read past his reading level when he was a kid, too! So did Pascal, and Curie, and Thomas Jefferson.

Recklessly adventurous hooligans, the lot of them.

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Don’t think that your institution’s good deeds will earn any mercy from this voracious boy. To a child this hungry for knowledge, any attempt to stymie his growth will be interpreted as the utmost cruelty of a tyrant, and will be met with appropriate force.

Like a Vandal on the Tiber, he will raze every chalkboard, uproot every shiny drinking fountain, in his rampage for interesting books. Even worse, he might take the quest upon himself to liberate his classmates from the librarian’s evil machinations, as well—the entire education system as we know it is threatened.

I have no consolation to offer, nor any suggested remedy for the situation.

Only this warning—brace yourselves for the fall of civilization that is bound to come at the hands of whoever this boy is.

Nathan Sweem

Nathan Sweem is an author based in Southern Oregon where he writes novels and explores the Oregon wilderness with his four children.

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