Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fairy Tales, Montessori, and Tim Burton

With Alice in Wonderland released this weekend in the U.S., the media blitz is full force. This bit amused me the most though and is most directly related to this blog.

From Burton Shocked By Posh School's Fairytale Ban:

The principal at the posh Montessori school in London lost out on landing TIM BURTON's son as a student for recommending fairytales aren't healthy for a young mind.

The filmmaker was appalled by the very idea and vowed not to send Billy to the well-respected school.

Burton's wife and muse Helena Bonham Carter says, "Tim has a theory that we impose our own fears on the kids and it's the kids who are quite robust.

"When we were trying to find a nursery school for our son, according to the Montessori method, kids can't tell the difference between reality and fantasy until the age of six.

"The school principal recommended no fairytales, which is why we didn't send Bill to Montessori - because telling Tim Burton that fairytales are not a good idea is a no-no."

And to add to the discussion At Home with Montessori: Fairy Tales - yes or no??:

In my hazy recollection, there is some controversy as to whether or not Montessori was for or against the reading of fairy tales to children.

Those in the "against" court argue that they go against the grain of belief that life should be for real, not wrapped up in talking animals and good and evil.

Those in the "for" court argue that they convey a very real life message in their stories and that legend and folklore are all based on and wrapped up in fairy tales, our history is intrinsically linked.

And more:

Up to today, I was more of the vein that there was no real need for them, they seem cruel and stereotypical and send out the message that life is full of goodies and baddies and that girls are all princesses and boys either bad men or princes. This wasn't the message I wanted to give to the children, so have avoided them to a greater extent.

Today my mind has been entirely changed. Not only do I realise that I was incorrect in my own jaded adult and very literal interpretations of them, but I am doing my children a disservice by omitting them from their lives. Children do not take these stories as literal but much more archetypically which is exactly the way they are meant to be taken.

Read in their original form and appropriately aged (NOT censored!) they emit a very potent message, that life is a journey, that we encounter good and evil in a variety of forms and that when the right paths are chosen on our journies, good will overthrow evil and justice will prevail. Yes, the "baddies" meet their ends, gruesome or not, but in the case of most of these, the end comes around by self infliction. Take for example the wolf in the original version of Little Red Cap - She fills his belly with stones, but she doesn't kill him, the stones are too heavy so when he gets up, he falls down dead. The stones........getting whhhhaaaay deep now, actually represent the materialism in life that tempts us (or Little Red Cap in this instance) when we are on our journies through life. In LRC's case, the wolf opened her mind to be tempted by the flowers (greed) and he, himself, was overcome with greed to not just eat the grandmother but to also eat LRC. At the end, the wolf is destroyed by his very own materialistic greed - the stones, the densest natural material on the earth.

And I thought this was one of the better explanations of the controversy and philosophy, from Montessori Newsletter 11 at Montessori Mom:

Many people believe that Dr. Montessori was against fairy tales and fantasy play for young children. In reality, she didn't have an opinion either way when she started her developmental approach to education. However, she observed that young children became bored with fairy tales during story time in her Children's House.

Montessori teachers were not forbidden to tell stories of any kind. Montessori did notice that the children would drift away to other activities during story time. Parents would tell her that their children loved stories at home and begged the parents to read to them. Dr. Montessori felt that a child's demand for stories was possibly caused from boredom or a need to attract attention from the parent.
(Obviously, my children were always bored or neglected at home with me!)

Montessori, however, did not believe that telling stories was a waste of time. She felt that after children had enough activity during the day, there were times of relaxation that a "good" story could introduce new ideas, animals, locations, and illustrations that would enrich a child's vocabulary and listening skills. She thought one of the most valuable things a parent could do was read a bedtime story that included beautiful pictures.

Montessori's concern about story telling is that a young child would believe any fantasy story read to him or her as the truth. Montessori training emphasized that violent and far fetched fairy tales could cause needless fear and anxieties. She felt that books should have great pictures, ideas, and fun lyrics, but they should not cause nightmares.

And more:

You can read happy fairy tales and fiction to your young children; watch fun fictional movies and television, just tell your child the story is pretend. This is a great time to talk about what is "real and what isn't real." I especially like to talk to children about super heroes and their pretend powers.

It's fine to tell your child that superman really can't fly, but the movie makes it look real.

Ms. Child reflected Montessori's belief about fantasy at this age as follows:

"There is no need to be afraid of the children's fantasies, they represent a stage in development, it is a necessary stage and it is usually outgrown without difficulty. We want to point out that teachers and parents should be prepared to help and not hinder. If we tell them what is not true, even if it is a pretty fancy, it is a lie and may do harm."

There is more at all these links, but the last has good links to further information and discussion, too.

I will say that I find Montessori philosophies very interesting and helpful in many ways in education, so this is no way a bashing. The entire subject is often oversimplified into outright banning which is why I wanted to share some of these quotes and stories to show it isn't.

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