Sunday, 14 July 2013

Fairy Tales-Should Children read them?

When I started a discussion on a social networking site for professionals regarding whether or not children should be allowed to read Fairy Tales because they are full of fantasy, I didn’t realise that there would be an overwhelming response in favour of it! The detractors believe that Fairy Tales are full of fantasy and so they should not be read by children because they might create a disconnect in the children with reality. One basic argument is that an exposure to the fantastic could make children susceptible to fantasising to the extent of beginning to believe in a world that is not connected to the world of harsh realities. Teenagers are known to fall into the trap of living in a dream world, creating their own world in which failures are transformed into successes resulting in a steady descent into a situation where they become divorced from reality and begin to believe in a rather fantastic world of dreams.
One of the arguments against exposing children to fantasy is that they begin to resort to escapism as a coping strategy thus aggravating real life problems they might be facing as a result of not being able to cope with stress, and not being able to adjust to difficult situations in life. Such teenagers begin to wake up to a waking dream wish fulfilment! One remembers the story of the shepherd boy who lied about the wolf that had come to eat the sheep just because he was bored and wanted the village folk to rush to his rescue. He does this a few times, and then when the real wolf turns up, no one comes to his rescue because the people thought he was taking them for a ride. Children who fantasise a lot tend to lie about things, claiming to have met great personalities just because they hunger for recognition. Those who live in a world of fantasy might tend to be looked down at by others who increasingly believe that they are liars and that what they say is false and made up. A lesson in a class twelve textbook for English prescribed by the C.B.S.E. describes exactly such a situation. The protagonist Sue believes that she has met Danny Casey, an Irish football prodigy, and she tells her friend and brother that she is meeting him at a predestined time, and day and will get an autograph from him. This is a story titled Going Places by A.R. Barton.
What Sue suffers from however might not be because of having read Fairy tales, rather it could be her way of coping with the circumstances of life. She has dreams of a life which is more exciting than an life that is led by a girl born in a working class family, a girl who has aspirations which are not supported by her financial circumstances. In many cases, this is a prime example of a malaise that affects many of our children. A dichotomy in aspirations and real life situations results in the teenager living in a life of fantasy which gradually leads to serious mental problems. These children lack the ability to differentiate between what is real and what is fantastic!
The arguments in favour of allowing children to read Fairy Tales however are overwhelming! Those in favour of allowing children to be exposed to Fairy tales suggest that Fairy Tales contain important messages about life. They say that the Fairy Tale about Beauty and The Beast, for example teaches the child that what matters is not external or skin deep beauty, but rather beauty of the spirit, beauty of thoughts, beauty of the soul. It is not the appearance that matters, rather it is the beauty of one’s inner self that matters, and in the story Beauty and The Beast, the maiden realises that the monster that she cares for is in fact a gem of a person. The fairy tale is a story that talks about romance in its highest version, and it reinforces the fact that you can’t judge a person by his or her looks! Cinderella is about inner beauty as opposed to the the artificial beauty that  that a make over can give you! It tells you that inner beauty is not determined by social status! Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs tells the reader that ultimately beauty of the soul transcends everything.
Many of the learned people who participated in the discussion on Linkdin stated that we should not discourage our children from reading Fairly Tales because they contain important lessons in life.One of the participants in the discussion  Naghmana Khokar writes: “Why should we talk about reinventing wheel .. let's talk about having a colony on moon . Let the children write their own fairy tales . Rajive never stop them from reading fairy tales . We must keep stimulating their imagination . That's the main thing along with hope . If their is no hope there is no spark in life . Don't expect a child to love his routine work . Doing things this way and then the other way . Not at all .. let him live his dreams ~ .. Don't ban fairy Tales ~ “ Another participant in the discussion, Bruce Weaver writes: “Read children everything! Including fairy tales! Most of these stories are telling young children about the human race in simple terms. Some of them are preparing children for the twists and turns of life. "Sleeping Beauty" is one. I found that I loved the Fairy Tales even more when I read them to my nieces. Even write your own! They are fun to do! With mythology you have to be careful with the young children since some of those Greek Myths were told for religious purposes rather than entertainment. Yet, do you see a coincidence and a common thread between "Pandora's Box" and the "Adam and Eve" Story from The Bible? "The Brave Little Tailor" was always one of my favourites because it taught me at a young age that appearances can be deceptive. Some of these tales were written down in order to preserve them, as happened with the Brothers Grimm who were not writers but anthropologists, who recorded these stories as they were told by story tellers in the regions they visited.”Yet another participant in the discussion, Anastasia Karouti write:”:Fairy tales have a certain structure, right? And their structure follows some basic social models, huh? So, they teach kids, via an informal way, how to at, or what moral values to think of when doing a certain thing; they give a direction, let's say, through a fictional example. And, let's not forget that many cultures also have folk tales that are based on real incidents, so they are pure and raw! To me, fairy tales and folk tales were a miracle and they largely compose my mentality, thus I think they are crucial (and a little imagination always helps)!” Yet another participant, Chanela Cubbins writes, “Often in my ESL beginner and elementary classes for young children adults, I use fairy tales as reading texts. the concepts are simple and they have something to smile about. Learning a new language like English as a young adult can be trying and challenging for them and this is one way to ease the stress. It is also great for conversation as often students will relate to the fairy tale as they have probably read it in their own language as kids...and it might just have had that little twist in the tale that provides something to talk about. Students are always eager to talk about the versions that they relate to in their own language.” Yet another participant in the discussion , Joe Runde writes: “To revisit the initial question, I wonder whether it might be better if adults had to read more fairy tales.” Another participant in the discussion, Kim Parrish writes, “Like the 'user and the technology', fairy tales/egends are integral to our histories and, as one of you suggested, psyches; recognizing that, simply means to impart their wisdoms on- there needs be adults in the room to help interpret the 'evil forests and dragons', or-heaven forbid- that not every sleeping beauty has a Prince Charming. They, like everything elsein our world undergo change, and perhaps with those changes we try to change old stereotypes and rusty paradigms that have not always served us well.I have Robert Munsche's delightful, "Paperbag Princess" in mind, there.ta,K.P.”
Today as a teacher of English in India, such discussions have forced be to do a rethink about allowing my students to read Fairy Tales! Should we then force our students to stop reading Fairy Tales Because they are fantastic? The overwhelming arguments seems to be in favour of letting students and children read Fairy Tales for their intrinsic value in terms of social and spiritual message. Looking at the overwhelming response in favour of the reading of Fairly Tales, I believe, we should not prevent children from reading them, in fact we should encourage our children to read them because of their intrinsic value! The transcending importance of Fairy Tales, lies in the fact that they teach us important lessons about life, and any way they teach us about the need to dream, the need to think big about the greater possibilities of life!
The overwhelming argument is that we should continue to allow our children and students to read Fairy Tales because they contain important messages from life, and, they are too valuable in terms of their cultural value to be done away with. Many of us who have reached maturity have been fed on a veritable mixture of Fairy Tales and literature based on the immense possibilities of life. These consideration therefore far outweigh arguments for not encouraging students and children to read Fairy Tales! Children who are at a disconnect from the world of reality might be doing so not because of reading Fairy Tales, but rather because of other reasons!

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