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Unread 04-12-2021, 08:37 AM
Max Goodman Max Goodman is offline
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
Posts: 1,950

In both the Seuss and the piper story, a presumably unintended message came along with what the creators wanted to say to or do for children. (People from Asia are strange; if you're cheated, go big for revenge.)

Is it possible to avoid such unintended messages? I worry that the harder I try to guide my own kids, the more strongly they absorb my unintended harmful messages.
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Unread 04-12-2021, 09:44 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 15,371

The unintended piper message may be that you shouldn't cheat in business, but not because honest dealing is a virtue, but because if you cheat people they may seek disproportionate revenge. In a watered down version, it's not actually a bad moral to say that honesty is a virtue, but it's also a practical approach to life since you don't want to make enemies. And after all, aren't millions of people taught that the main reason to be virtuous is to avoid burning in hell for all eternity? Isn't God the piper who insists on being paid?
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Unread 04-12-2021, 12:17 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 7,172

Max reminds me that we're pretty far afield from Seuss now...but the lesson I took from And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street as a kid was how sad it was that many grown-ups, like the narrator's unimaginative father, want complete control over what their kids are thinking. Which is pretty ironic, given the context of the current kerfuffle.

A lot of the stated morals of children's stories are just naked propaganda to affirm the authority of parents and teachers. Roger's comment reminds me that the moral of many Bible stories, at least as presented by authority figures, seems to be "Do what I say if you want to stay on God's good side, because look at what a terrifying asshole God can be sometimes. Better listen to me!"

When I was little, my parents told me that the two morals of "Little Red Riding Hood" were 1.) follow your parents' instructions to the letter (e.g., to stay on the path and go straight to Granny's house--rather than disobeying to pick flowers, as a thoughtful gesture to cheer Granny up) and 2.) don't talk to strangers, or they will pry too many details out of you and then use those against you.

On one occasion I contradicted these stated morals, and said that the lessons to be learned should be 1.) adults should know better than to send kids alone into dangerous places, armed only with advice to stay on the path and not dawdle, and 2.) sometimes strangers (e.g., the woodman) are the only ones who can save you from wolves in family members' clothing.

This did not go over well.

In the context of the non-criminals in my family constantly trying to present the outward appearance of normality and goodness, to avoid the negative consequences of scandal and gossip and shunning, my parents' version of the lessons to be learned (or taught, anyway) makes perfect sense, in retrospect. But only if--as within the Catholic Church--the priority is to avoid negative consequences for predators and their allies rather than for children. Again, not sending children into places known to be dangerous is a far better idea, if you really want to protect kids, than teaching them to obey authority figures no matter what. Because the authority figures can turn out to be the wolves.

I think it's a good thing for children to grow aware that storytellers and their interpreters are choosing to present certain evidence in a certain light. Who benefits from that particular version of events, rather than another? And might the lesson be quite different if different aspects of the story were emphasized instead? Modern society could use more critical consumption of narratives among adults, all across the political spectrum.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 04-12-2021 at 12:25 PM.
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Unread 04-12-2021, 02:16 PM
Sarah-Jane Crowson's Avatar
Sarah-Jane Crowson Sarah-Jane Crowson is offline
Join Date: Oct 2018
Location: UK
Posts: 490

Apologies for dropping in very fleetingly but there's a brilliant (well, I think so) book out there about the subversive nature of children's texts - or one reading of them as subversive, anyway.

It's a bit old, so may not hit all the contemporary buttons of awareness, but it's called 'Don't Tell the Grown-ups' by Alison Lurie..

Again, a bit old, and there might be better contemporary texts, but I remember really enjoying Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales
by Max Lüthi

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Unread 04-12-2021, 02:37 PM
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Ann Drysdale Ann Drysdale is offline
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Old South Wales (UK)
Posts: 5,590

I'm a great fan of Alison Lurie. In "Don't Tell the Grown-Ups" she writes of the Pied Piper in relation to Kate Greenaway's illustrations and John Ruskin's interest in them. That was in my mind when I mentioned the excluded child.
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Unread 04-12-2021, 03:09 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
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Thanks, Jane and Ann. I've just ordered a used ("like new") copy of the Lurie book you mention. Sounds fascinating.

Last edited by Roger Slater; 04-12-2021 at 03:23 PM.
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Unread 04-12-2021, 03:13 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 4,724

I remember reading a couple of Alison Lurie's novels. They were sort of romancy but I enjoyed them.
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