APRIL 2nd, 1932: Teachers bemoan thrilling books and cinema


FROM THE ARCHIVES:The entertainments that interest children – which differ from the allegedly wholesome activities of our own childhoods – is always a constant concern, as this report from the Irish Teachers Congress in Dublin in 1932 illustrates.

MR O’HAGAN said that it was natural that the teachers should be concerned about the home environment of children they were educating. Two things that have the greatest influence on the children outside the school were reading and the cinema. In Dublin there was at present a craze among juveniles for a certain type of literature, and this literature was being exchanged and handed round with an eagerness that was never shown by the children in their school work. At the twelve o’clock recess it was a common thing to see a rush of children to find if anyone had these little books to change . . .

“The books now read by children are of an entirely different type from those read twenty years ago,” said Mr O’Hagan. “Children now have an insatiable desire for thrills and excitement. They are not satisfied with any humdrum stories. Stories from those excellent books published in Ireland and suitable for children are too namby-pamby, too milk-and-watery for the present city children.

“The minds of children in Dublin are becoming morbid,” he continued. “They are looking for sensation.”

He took a book from a boy in the fourth class – one of those books which are ostensibly picture books. This boy of tender years was reading a story, the title of which was Her Secret Sin. What those present (at the Congress) might read was very well censored – some people might say too much censored – but a child of tender years could come across books that would do infinitely more harm to his tender mind than anything could upon theirs. They called upon the government rigidly to exclude from circulation in this country all these cross-channel publications that are doing so much harm to the children . . .

Cinemas, he said, were an even more powerful influence for harm. On the glorious, sunny Saturday afternoons, teachers saw thousands of children entering the stuffy, dusty atmosphere of cinemas, to look at pictures over which there had been no censorship from the children’s point of view. It was a lamentable waste of time, even if there was no moral harm done to the children.

Other countries had been active in this matter. There had been an inquiry by the London county council, and it was found that 87 per cent of the children of school-going age were regular patrons of the cinemas. Grave harm was done to children in the broad moral sense. He did not refer to sex issues, but he did say that children’s minds were unbalanced by the films.

“Look at the effect of those pictures that introduce an element of terror and fright,” he declared. “Every teacher knows that even an ordinary mask inspires terror in a small child. What, then,” he asked, “is the effect of some of these pictures where children of tender years are looking at murders and assaults of all kinds?”

They in Dublin were sick to death of listening to the children saying “Sez you”, and similar Americanisms. What was the cure? He suggested that children of a certain age should be prohibited from going to cinemas altogether for the present. He would not mention any age – it was a matter for investigation – but children under five or six should not be allowed to go to the pictures at all . . .

Children should only be allowed to see educational films and films of travel, healthy heroism and adventure.