Monday, July 13, 2015

Vision for Children, Third Installment

(This is a portion of the closing plenary lecture at the Charlotte Mason Institute, June 20, 2015)

Of all my childhood memories, many involve reading. One is lying in my trundle bed, probably I was two or three, listening to my mother read Mother Goose. I still remember those rhymes perfectly, can hear her voice rhythm in Hickory Dickory Dock, Jack and Jill went up the hill. Wee Willy Winky would lull me to sleep. I was getting acquainted with the language, learning to know it and love it.

I also remember some quality recordings my parents gave us– long-play records for a turntable if you’ve ever heard of those – which contained dozens of classic tales and stories. We listened so much they’re ingrained in my memory. One story frightened me a little (perhaps partly by the strange Chinese background music?) Because Ping was alone out on the Yangtze River at night, just a little duck. I dreaded the promised smack he would receive for being the last one home when he was called. Is that where I started to learn that taking deserved punishment was a better consequence than having my own way – doing what I ought superior to doing what I wanted? Was it Mike Mulligan that introduced the value of delight in a job well done, for the sake of service and excellence alone? Was it Cinderella who taught me that beauty is more than what you wear? Did the legend of Stone Soup show me that a little generosity goes a long way?

Who knows? And isn’t that the point? These tales planted ideas of good and right in my uninstructed conscience. Myths, legends and fairy-tales have been retold for a reason. I am alarmed when I ask children today about very familiar folktales, and they have never heard – of Paul Bunyan or Billy Goats Gruff or any Greek or Norse myth unless it has been made into a cartoon or movie. Why does it matter? These tales have been preserved for hundreds of generations because people throughout history have delighted in and learned from them, had questions common to us all answered by them. They distill truths, clearly describe right and wrong, in a way new books do not. Their mythic heroes inspire ideas of how heroes behave, which our children need to see for the day when they are called upon to be heroes themselves. Child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, said “Children are more concerned with who to be like than how to be good.”

Another benefit of these old tales is how immediate consequences of behavior are plainly told, which helps children, who are not yet adept at tracing cause and effect. They long to know that good will be rewarded, and triumphs over evil. Folktales explain many of life’s mysteries for them. Exposure to tales was part of how I learned basic ethics.

(To be continued)

For the joy of reading,


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