Thoughts on Princesses, Joyful Learning, and Chinese Chess Champions

After reading the comments in my book post from this week, I decided to quickly clarify a few things that may have been poorly stated in my post. Then I wrote this post and realized it wasn’t very quick after all!

In saying that I think it’s important to read children classics instead of Disney-fied versions of stories, I didn’t mean that I think Disney is bad or wrong or that I am against Disney princesses or something. I know there are people out there who don’t believe in allowing kids to see Disney movies, and I respect that if it’s your conviction. I think that as with anything, parents should be discerning and know their children well enough to know what they can handle and when, and certainly we should be careful about what types of media we expose our children to, but I think Disney stories have their place.

What I meant by my comment was that I think sometimes people miss out on the excellent literature that Disney uses (often quite loosely) as a basis for their products. I think we can all agree that watching Disney’s “Pocahontas” is not going to give you an accurate history lesson, and similarly watching Disney’s Winnie the Pooh is not giving you the same experience that reading A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh will. I like Disney’s Pooh, and I think it’s fine for kids to watch it, but I wouldn’t supplant the real thing with the Disney version.

If I was going to take the time to read a book to my kids, I’d rather read a beautifully illustrated classic story than a book based on the Disney movie that was itself in turn loosely based on the classic story. We might see the movie later, but I think of it as a separate item, not literature.

Hannah doesn’t actually watch TV or movies right now, but I certainly don’t think it’s a sin or bad parenting if kids do. When she’s older we will let her watch things, it’s just not what we’re doing now.

I also hope I haven’t given the impression that I have this rigid awful work work work thing going on with the kids. I think that reading and all kinds of learning should be joyful, fun, happy things. I don’t ever want our kids to feel like “if you work hard at yucky school work, then you can have fun and just play.” Sometimes Hannah plays by herself, sometimes we play at being silly monkeys, or dance like crazy, or sing “BENNY! BENNY AND THE JETS!” at the top of our lungs. Sometimes we play games with the alphabet or read beautiful and well-written books or sing Bible verses or color things that may or may not look like the alphabet. We count the stairs when we walk up and down them and Hannah almost always forgets that “eight” comes between “seven” and “nine” and she gets a lot of satisfaction out of the fact that there are exactly fifteen stairs every time. Really, I don’t think she notices a difference between those things. She seems to really enjoy the “learning” play as much as the goofing off play. I want it to be that way. I’m glad it is so far.

Hopefully our children will never feel like they are slogging through a classic just because it’s a classic while they are hating every minute of it and wishing for their lives back. That would be awful. But I do think there is value to reading classics in the right context. For example, I would not personally spend my Saturday night re-reading Heidigger or Habermas, and I would never throw a kid in his room to digest Kant all by himself, but I appreciate those works, I am glad I’ve read them, and I think there is value to understanding and discussing them. My approach might be more to read dense works together and discuss them, appreciating the ideas and impact those books had on the trajectory of history or the development of culture.

I think the IDEAS are what makes a classic a classic and valuable, followed in close second by excellence of language or art. I hope that as our children grow and we do more structured learning, I don’t lose sight of the ideas and context and reasons why we learn things. I hope that learning is always something they enjoy and that they never get frustrated wondering why they are learning it or “when will I ever need to know this?” I know I personally most enjoy learning when those questions are answered and goals are explained.

Anyway, there are a lot of different philosophies out there of learning, education, parenting, and the like. Different families have different goals and different focuses, and that’s good. We don’t all have to do things the same way. I hope that none of you reading my blog ever feel like I’m attacking you or the way you do things in your family. In turn, I kind of hope you won’t judge me if my kids can’t speak Chinese and win international chess tournaments and compete in Olympic gymnastics – those pursuits, while worthy, are probably not ever going to be a major focus for our family, even if they are in yours. I hope you never feel like you have to read what I read or do what I do or like what I like! Feel free to disagree, privately or in the comments section, and feel free to let me know if you think I’m off track or have another way of doing things that might work better.

I’ll also work at being more clear in my statements!

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