Saturday, February 11, 2012

Teach the controversy

Look at 9/11, the (most recent) Iraq war, the bank bailouts of 2008... What do these events have in common? Decisions made by the powers-that-be were incompetent at best, deceitful and irrepairably harmful towards the other end. Who paid, by which I mean, who got in trouble? No one. Three planes crash into landmarks, the weapons of mass destruction lie gets repeated endlessly, and the largest businesses are rewarded for going broke, taking millions of citizens with them. No one is held accountable.

As we approached the previous holiday season, a book appeared here at the store, deceptively simple, yet carrying a strong moral lesson. Thankfully, it's a kid's book -- I've given up on adults.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press) tells the story of a bear in crisis. The bear reaches out to his community, to no avail. Then, in a flash of insight, our ursine protagonist realizes a particular individual has broken the forest code. Measures are taken--radical measures, by some standards--but for sure the perpetrator will never wrong another furry friend, fish, or fowl.

Personally, I was quite taken with this title. One thing so often lacking in our society is consequences. Here is a story where the wheels of justice grind quick as well as small.

Soon I became aware of the backlash to Klassen's fine work. In this critique, the bear is equated with the victimizer. An innocent, our hero is shocked when exposed to devious behavior. The bear later utilizes these novel tactics.

Supposedly this behavior is inappropriate for children. The other day, a semi-distraught customer returned the book for this reason. Having perused the tome many times, I am convinced this interpretation is highly problematic, as well as underestimating the intellectual capabilities of youth.

The crux of the difficulty lies with adults believing children will identify with the bear. This is not the case. The bear, a sweetheart when not riled, is a simple-minded type. Being bamboozled so easily is evidence of this. The child does not identify with the bear. The book builds confidence in children by having kids perceive themselves as smarter, more worldly, than the bear. Kids would not be fooled as easily as our hero is. Likewise, the fibs so new to the bear are hardly new to children. And of course, children love seeing the villain get it.

It is protection from consequences which stunts growth and development. Denying children a chance to grapple with ethical issues, in the guise of 'protecting' them, will have the same result

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