Fairy tales picture a world filled with magic, love and the triumph of the good over the evil. Fairy tales are a window to other worlds where the wildest dreams can come true and the hero always lives happily ever after preferably paired with his loved one. Although some people argue that fairy tales are full of stereotypes, filled with frightening monsters and promote racism and sexism I believe that they are wrong because fairy tales provide valuable moral lessons to children, teach them other countries’ cultures promote the imagination and the cognitive development and therefore they should be read to young children.
As a first argument, supporting that fairy tales should be read to children, it must be mentioned that fairy tales and stories in general, help to develop the young people’s imagination and therefore their cognitive development, which will be useful to them throughout their lives. Also, that the children can use their imagination to learn from something they’re being told and haven’t experienced directly. Researches have proved that, and more specifically a research made by two professors of the Ohio University where they suggest that when young children listen to a story from an a person, they can later be able to produce their own stories. According to Piaget (1970) this ability to create their own stories leads to cognitive development. When children want to tell a story they must attempt first to do it mentally. Therefore by exercising the ability of story telling, the children are developing their mental abilities and skills and are working on their imagination (Geist Eugene, Jerry Aldridge 5).
All these mentioned above, prove that the reading of fairy tales to children help the development of their minds, the advancement of their imagination and their story structuring skills. Additionally, in the article entitled “Monsters, Tooth Fairies, God, and Germs!” it is stated that young children are receiving an enormous volume of information – from the identity of their biological parents to names of animals to facts about the world around them – by testimony: Someone tells them that the family pooch is called “dog” and that Mom and Dad are, indeed, Mom and Dad.” (Harris 1) The author continues in the same article by referring to his book The Work of the Imagination, where he points out that even at the preschool age, children can use their imagination to learn from testimony.
They can learn from something they didn’t witness but they’re just listening from their parents or siblings telling them about it. Therefore, they are using their imagination to picture in their minds the event, which they are narrated, and learn from it (Harris 2). With these mentioned we get to the conclusion that, children, by listening to stories and fairy tales, are developing their mentality and they get their thought stimulated, and not least that through fairy tales they build in a mechanism of recognizing the reality from the fantasy.
As a second argument supporting fairy tales, it must be stated that fairy tales and classical stories contain useful moral lessons for a children and picture a world where even freedom is obliged to follow some basic moral laws. Additionally, fairy tales get a child acquainted with other countries’ cultures and habits and they can help children to face and resolve their conflicts. For instance, the stories of Little Red Riding Hood and Pinocchio, have the messages of not talking to strangers and not lying respectively. Moreover, in the article “On Fairy Tales and Moral Imagination” it is declared that “fairy tales are neither practical guides to living nor scientific hypotheses. But they enclose the deepest qualities of our humanity and our relationships to others. They make us envision a world with norms and limits. A world in which freedom respects the moral law or else pays a heavy price” (Guroian Vigen “On Fairy Tales” 3). Thus, it would appear that fairy tales teach young children to see the world with more hope and self-esteem through the freedom and the ideal situations they portray but children should always make sure to remember to follow some basic moral rules.
Another way of learning is introduced by an entry entitled “Fairy Tales” included in an encyclopedia which mentions that fairy tales can teach a child about other cultures and civilizations and therefore teach it that apart from it’s own country and culture there are also many other people and cultures throughout the entire world. This can help children to overcome the egocentrism and selfish thoughts, which are very common in those ages, and make them realize that apart from them , billions of other people live in this planet and hundred of other nations exist apart from their own
. Also fairy tales can introduce children, who are relatively powerless in most areas of their lives, to a world “where the smallest animal, the poorest peasant, the youngest daughter often prevails over those larger, richer, older, and more powerful.” Thus, in the words of writer and child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim: “fairy tales can help children confront and resolve conflicts in their own lives” Therefore, we can easily conclude that, fairy tales, by portraying a world where it is possible for the weak to prevail over the strong, can give hope to children and make them confront their own problems with courage and self-esteem.
My last argument supporting fairy tales claims that fairy tales and stories generally can become a tool of the society to teach children socialization and enroll children in our society. As writer Vigen Guroian states, fairy tales and modern fantasy stories show other worlds, but they still pay attention to moral laws of character and virtue. By giving us stories with ugly beasts becoming eventually beautiful princes and bad men turning to stone and good back to flesh, “they remind us of moral truths whose ultimate claims to normativity and permanence we would not think of questioning” (Guroian Vigen “Awakening the Moral Imagination” 1). What this writer has said, can show us that fairy tales can introduce youngsters to the basic socialization and laws of the society and what is acceptable in society and what is not.
Along with writer Vigen Guroian, Andrea Holm Allingham, who is a lecturer at Lakehead University, mentions in her article how a thrust of ‘approved’ stories was used until the eighteenth century in Great Britain to maintain the power of aristocrats. They didn’t approve of stories which had social-related issues. The approved stories were used to maintain the power of the upper class and make the poor accept their destiny and their social position (Allingham Andrea Gayle Holm “Defending the Imagination” 1). This is an example of how fairy tales can become a tool to shape our social life, because back in the eighteenth century in Great Britain, the Nobles were using these stories for their own benefit.
The opposing part on the other hand is against fairy tales, with most known the effort of a writer and psychologist named Karl Oppel who stated that fairy tales should not be read to young children. In a manual for parents that was published in German and was entitled “The Parent’s Book: Practical Guidance for the Education at Home”, Karl Oppel points out that fairy tales fill the imagination with horrible images and by this they lay the foundation of fear and of the nervosity that is so frequent nowadays. Why do young children don’t want to stay alone in the dark or cannot sleep? Can we blame them? No, when they are told stories with terrible man-eaters waiting in the dark to suck their blood. (“Should Children be Told Fairy Tales?” 2)
For that statement, Van de Wissel, who was the translator of the german edition of “The Parent’s Book” and who inserted some paragraphs of her own on the book in protest against Oppel’s views, argues by saying that fairy tales can become a powerful means for developing the imagination, that they can help to put ourselves in the happiness and misery of our fellow-humans, and thus this can help to further our ethical development. She agrees although that fairy tales need a careful selection because some fairy tales contain things that are not suitable for children, but there are so many good stories like the New Mother Goose and The Ugly Duckling. After all according to a Dutch socialist named Nellie van Kol, our children are “by nature fairy tale poets” (“Should Children be Told Fairy Tales?” 4).
A second opposition states that fairy tales promote underground messages like colonization, racism, sexism, etc. As Herbert Kohl, an acclaimed educator and author, points out when talking about the fairy tale of Babar “The story moves on relentlessly from Babar’s civilizing Arthur and Celeste. Babar has been so taken in by people-ways that he does the job of recruiting for them. This is one form of colonization: seducing some members of the group into letting them proselytize for you.”(Herbert, Kohl 9). With this statement two messages come to light in the story of Babar, the civilization and the colonization. It shows the elephants being civilized and this civilization is symbolic of destroying the culture of colonized people. Additionally, the same person states that there is a scene which shows Babar with his arm resting on Celeste’s shoulder, while Celeste has her head bowed, and the oldest elephant, Cornelius, handing to Babar power over all the elephants (Herbert, Kohl 11-12).
This scene implied that women’s happiness derives from being chosen by the right male. Also it was a scene which was presenting women in subservient roles. For this opposition the same author argues that the children are not in the position to understand and grasp those underground messages. “Are they aware of colonization? Do they understand that civilizing the elephants is symbolic of destroying the culture of colonized people? Or that beneficent free-flowing money of the Rich Lady is a form of glorifying the ruling class? And does it matter?”(Herbert, Kohl 16-17). Finally, just like Van de Wissel, Herbert Kohl also suggests that the fairy tales should be selected before they will be read to children.
To summarize the benefits gained from reading fairy tales, it must be noted that fairy tales help the mental development of the child and the advancement of their imagination, that they are useful tools for learning and that they teach basic moral laws and finally that they can help children with their enrollment in the society. After all, when Albert Einstein was asked how to develop intelligence in young people he answered “Read fairy tales, then read more fairy tales” (“Folk and Fairy Tales”)
Allingham, Andrea Gayle Holm “Defending the Imagination: Charles Dickens,
Children’s Literature and the Fairy Tale Wars” The Victorian Web. 18 Nov. 2000. 14 Nov. 2005.
Egan, Kieran “Teaching as Story Telling (Introduction)” Simon Fraser University 14 Nov. 2005.
“Folk and Fairy Tales” Utah Education Network 28 Nov. 2005.
“Gale Encyclopedia of Childhood and Adolescence: Fairy Tales” Find Articles 14 Nov. 2005.
Geist Eugene, Jerry Aldridge “The Developmental Progression of Children’s Oral Story Inventions” Journal of Instructional Psychology March 2002.
Guroian, Vigen “Awakening the Moral Imagination: Teaching Virtues Through
Fairy Tales” The Intercollegiate Review Fall 1996.
Guroian, Vigen “On Fairy Tales and Moral Imagination” Catholic Education. 14 Nov. 2005.
Harris, Paul “Monsters, Tooth Fairies, God, and Germs!” Harvard University. 15 Jan.2004. 14 Nov. 2005.
Herbert, Kohl. Should We Burn Babar? New York: The New Press, 1995.
Morton, Hunt “The Biological Roots of Religion: Is Faith in Our Genes?” Free Inquiry Summer 1999.
“Should Children be Told Fairy Tales? A 1903 Debate” Nijmegen University Netherlands. 23 Sept. 1998. 14 Nov. 2005.
Young, Jonathan “Once Upon a Time, How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives” Journal Magazine, Fall 1997.