Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tom Sutcliffe: The fairytale survey that became a work of fiction

Apparently the article I linked to earlier is part of a minor firestorm of media coverage in the UK for Sally Goddard Blythe's new book, The Genius of Natural Childhood: Secrets of Thriving Children. I linked to one of the articles, but didn't discuss it. Here's a valid response from someone else.

From Tom Sutcliffe: The fairytale survey that became a work of fiction:
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. Once upon a time there was a very small storm in a very small tea cup. If you listened to the Today programme yesterday, or read the Telegraph or the Mail, you may even have felt the breeze, with the suggestion – loosely hooked to the publication of a new book by a child psychologist called Sally Goddard Blythe – that modern parents were impoverishing their children's development by steering clear of traditional fairytales.

What a great story it was. It had an ogre, in the shape of the dimwitted giant Peecee, and it had a heroine in the shape of Ms Blythe – not afraid to make her way through the dark woods of liberal cant and win back the treasure of moral instruction contained in these familiar and much-loved stories. I responded to it myself initially, firing up my inner conservative to grouch about the folly of modern culture – its timidity and poverty of imagination. And then it occurred to me that it might just be a fairytale itself.

The poll findings on which the story was based came from a survey of 3,000 parents commissioned by TheBabyWebsite.com from a Bristol marketing firm called One Poll. So, it wasn't – as I'd initially, cynically assumed – one of those self-selective online questionnaires which pass themselves off as real research.

The full results did make interesting reading, though, since it was difficult to square One Poll's findings with the suggestion that parents were turning their backs on the traditional fairytale. Take the Daily Mail's suggestion, for instance, that "Rapunzel was considered 'too dark'".

The only direct reference to Rapunzel in the questionnaire was this: "Do you avoid telling your children more traditional fairytales such as Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk?" A mere 11.41 per cent answered yes to this question, so one assumes only they could legitimately answer the next question: "Which of the following reasons best describes why you won't tell these stories to your children?" And of those who answered, only 11.35 per cent said it was because they are "too dark/sinister". In other words, something like 39 people out of 3,000 thought Rapunzel was too dark; just over 1 per cent – and hardly evidence of a significant cultural shift.
As always there is more in the article, mostly discussing the survey.

Here are some other articles:

Scary stories help children know right from wrong By SALLY GODDARD BLYTHE at the Sun

Parents who ditch fairytales miss chance to teach kids morality from Daily News & Analysis

Fairytale ending for children's books at Herald Sun

and the one I linked to earlier

Once upon a time, there was a moral code... Fairy tales ARE better for children than modern books, expert claims By Daily Mail Reporter

And while we're at it, here's the book that this is all centered around:

The Genius of Natural Childhood: Secrets of Thriving Children

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