Monday, May 19, 2014

Re-Thinking A Popular Book

When I first read it, my reaction was, "Oh, how sweet. It's all about sharing." But now it's on the "horrible" list.

My apologies for missing the title. Perhaps I've repressed it. I never actually bought a copy, as it came out after my own kids were too old to appreciate reading it. But a posting on Steph's blog brought it back to me:  In her post she discussed hating "The Giving Tree" as a kid, plus linking to a rethinking of the concept, reminded me of this other one.

If you are of a certain couple generations, you will most likely have read it, either by yourself or to your kids. It's the one about the fish with all the beautiful scales but no friends, since all the other fish are jealous. The fish's "salvation" comes from removing its scales one-by-one and sharing them with the other fish.  Now everybody has a pretty scale and everything is fine.

I'm sure the message is supposed to be about sharing. It's a lovely thing to teach children. But it's also about conformity, denigrating excellence, envy, and, worst of all, self-mutilation to fit in. Having raised aquarium fish, I'm well aware of the consequences of how damage to scales leads to sickness and death in fish. Is that what is necessary to fit in? We're not talking toys here. Sure, let's share those with other children. But destroying one's own beauty and health in order to spread around something as superficial as beauty, that's a terrible lesson for children.

Why not a story telling about how every kind of appearance had it's good and bad points? Spectacular beauty brings attention, yes, but some of it is unwanted. How about compassion for the downsides of that? Let's show how the plainer fish might be swifter and avoid the bigger, hungry fish. Let's show how different skills and behaviors help protect babies. Praise cleverness, excellence, work. Beauty should never be made such a value that we hate the beautiful while simultaneously wanting what they have to the extent of destroying them for it.

Our society is already screwed up enough in its values without teaching this to our children. Look at rates of anorexia, plastic surgery, botox, cosmetics use. How quickly clothes are tossed out because they are last season's fashions. Billions are spent on such superficial things when we could be educating and feeding our children. I know you can find examples all around you, if only you'd look.

We can start by not reading that book to our children without having a discussion with them about what it really says, and about better ways to share with their peers.

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