Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 106-108
It's encouraging to see that Felix Adler restores the use of fairy tales. He correctly says that a lot of the selfishness in the world isn't due to real heard-heartedness. It's due to a lack of imaginative ability. He adds, 'I believe that it's beneficial for a child to be able to take the wishes from his heart and project them onto an imaginary setting.'
But how should we handle these Märchen? [Märchen is German for fairy tales.] How should we utilize them to suit our special purpose? My first suggestion is this: Tell the story, rather than giving it to the child to read. As the child listens to the tale, he'll look up with wide eyes at the person telling the story. The newness in him will recognize and thrill to the touch of an earlier race of mankind.' In other words, Adler feels that traditions should be passed on orally, and he's right. This is an important point. His second suggestion is just as important. He writes, 'Don't take the moral plum out of the fairy tale pudding. Let the child experience and enjoy the whole, complete package. Treat the moral aspect casually. Go ahead and emphasize it, but act as if it's incidental. Pick it as you'd pick a wildflower along the highway.'
Adler's third suggestion is to eliminate from the stories anything that's only superstitious, or a remnant of ancient spiritism, or anything morally offensive. Related to this, he discusses the controversial question of how much we should expose children to the existence of evil in the world.
'My own opinion,' he says, 'is that, when children are around, we should only speak of the kinds of lesser evil that they already know about. On these grounds, that would eliminate stories about cruel stepmothers, unnatural fathers, and such. Even so, most of us would probably make an exception for Cinderella, and its charming German ballet version, Aschenbrödel. I also tend to think that fairy tales lose their spirit and charm when they're specially adapted for children. Wordsworth is right when he says that exposure to evil presented within the glamour of a fairy tale is useful to shield children from painful, damaging shocks in real life.
Mr. Adler writes that fables should be used for moral teaching in the second stage, about the time the child is old enough to leave the nursery [preschool?] We've all grown up on Aesop's Fables. Stories such as 'The Dog in the Manger,' 'King Log,' and 'The Frog and the Stork' are so familiar to us that they've become part of the fabric of society's thought. But it's interesting to remember that these stories are even older than Aesop himself and most of them originated in Asia. We should remember where these fables came from because we need to use a little discretion when we decide which to use for conveying moral concepts to our children.
Mr. Adler would reject fables such as 'The Oak and the Reed,' 'The Brass and the Clay Pot,' and 'The Kite and the Wolf' because they teach Asian subservience and fear. But British nature is too proud to bow before anyone or submit to any circumstance, so those life lessons learned by the eastern culture might be especially helpful to English children. Besides, some of the most charming fables would have to go if we started removing any that seemed influenced by eastern wisdom. The fables that Felix Adler especially recommends are those that portray virtue as something admirable, and evil as something to avoid, such as 'The Stag and the Fawn' that teaches about cowardice, 'The Peacock and the Crane' that teaches about vanity, and 'The Dog and the Shadow' that teaches about greed.
Volume 3, School Education Education, pg 184-185
Wordsworth tells us that, shortly after he started school at Hawkshead, the body of a suicide victim was found in Esthwaite Lake. It was a ghastly incident, but we can take comfort when we see how children are protected from shock. Wordsworth, the little boy, was there, and saw it all:
'Yet, as young as I was, not even nine years old,
No depressing fear possessed me, because, in my mind,
I had seen such sights before among silvery streams
Of fairyland in the romantic forests.
The memory of my imaginings covered the real tragedy
With an ornament of perfect grace.
It gave the incident a dignity, a smoothness, like the works
Of Greek art, or the purest poetry.'
It's reassuring to hear a child who went through it say that such a terrible scene was kept separate from him by an atmosphere of poetry, and a veil woven from fairy tales by his own fanciful imagination.
That doesn't mean that we should take unnecessary risks. We should use a calm, matter-of-fact tone when we talk about fires, car wrecks or other terrors. For some children, the thought of Joseph being in the pit is scary, and even many of us adults can't handle a horrifying tale in the news or literature. The only thing I'm suggesting is that we treat children naturally and let them have their fair share in experiencing life as it really is. We shouldn't allow too much caution, or let our own panic dictate the way we deal with them.