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  • Anna Brix Thomsen

Children are Taught Fiction and Fantasy but what about Reality? DAY 52

Something that I have been noticing lately in my work as a teacher is how children’s books and songs and toys are gravely detached from reality. The books are most often completely unrelated to reality, with a few actually dealing with real lifeissues. Instead they entice the children into a dream- and fantasy-world and I clearly remember how that intrigued me as a child myself. But I also weren’t given any alternatives. It didn’t occur to anyone to read to me about how the body works, how the universe were created or about animals or people from other countries. It didn’t occur to anyone to encourage me to read for myself about reality. Instead I was handed novel after novel about fictitious realities with princesses and warlocks and witches and I soon began fantasizing and imaging accordingly. I do remember one book I read as a child, a book I found myself randomly in a box someone left behind one day. It was about a boy who (albeit by the intervention of a fairy) experienced himself being transported into the body of his baby sister, experiencing the world from a tiny baby’s perspective, how it feels like to cry and not being able to communicate or move. I remember that this book made a big impression on me and assisted me to consider other perspectives than my own personal experience.

Children’s songs are even worse than the books when it comes to presenting fictitious realities. They are often quite nonsensical and I see how that can be fun in itself, but the thing is that most of the songs are like this and seldom do the teachers go through the words with the kids and explain to them what each word means and why the song is constructed the way it is. There is for instance this Swedish children’s song about a crocodile whose tail is too long for his car, so he has to stick it out the back to fit. It’s a funny song, but it makes no sense. I’ve also noticed with a lot of the songs, that when they’re somewhat realistic, they’re often about life on the country, referring back to the ‘glory days’ of Scandinavian farm life. So they work with topics such as milking a cow or riding a horse, but I have yet to hear a song that speaks about the life that most children face today.

Lastly there are the toys that children play with. And here I’m not mentioning all the digital toys and tools because that is a topic entirely on its own. What I am instead referring to is physical toys. Legos can be a lot of fun, but other than that most of the toys are generic and stereotypical, like dolls and play kitchens and cars: virtually designed to introduce the children to the (often heavily gender segregated) world they will be participating in. It does however look as though toy producers have been somewhat more considerate towards the needs of children than those creating books and songs. But it is unfortunate that fictitious toys and books and songs are at the center of a child’s environment, when there’s a whole world of real things, things that aren’t created for pretense that the child is missing out on. Children’s books for example often deal with topics such as friendship, but seldom do they cover topics that would assist the child to get to know their own body, or place themselves in the shoes of another let alone become people with a commonsensical outlook on life and living.

Now, there might be a lot of educational researchers who would disagree with me on this, but I am not sharing this perspective based on what I’ve read in textbooks, because what I share here, comes straight from my daily observations in kindergartens and schools.

So now you might say: “What’s wrong with fantasies and colorful plastic toys?”

Well – if we have a look at who these kids become as they grow up and enter into adulthood, we see that the world of plastic toys and fictitious realities carries with them. Those of us who has grown up bottle-fed on fantasy and fairytales have an alarmingly disconnected relationship to reality and nature. Third world countries with stark poverty become ‘exotic’ and ‘authentic’ places for us to travel to while we do our ‘soul searching’. When we go into the forest, we don’t see trees and birds and soil, because we haven’t grown up getting to know the environment, as it exists in fact. Instead we imagine we’re Harry Potter or that the trees are talking to us, or that we would live out here gathering berries and being in tune with nature. When we look at what career to get, we dream and fantasize about becoming famous or we see ourselves as the center of the universe just like a character in a book and wait for that moment where our spiritual purposes is supposed to reveal itself, all the while we waste our lives away working minimum wage jobs or graduating with degrees that have become useless by the time we’re done studying.

Now – all of this is not to say that we should now have a book burning ceremony with all things aimed at enticing fantasies and imagination in a child’s life. Because reading fantasy or science fiction books for example can be a lot of fun. (I should know, I’ve devoured plenty myself) The point is however that there’s way too little material in children’s lives that deal with actual reality in a fun, enjoyable and educational way. Because by the time the child goes to school, all the material they’re introduced to that has to do with actual reality, is the kind of stuff that they’ll grow up to find boring, while the imaginary worlds offer them an

‘escape’ and ‘outlet’. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Fiction for children could be written in such a way that it actually reflects reality and supports the child to get to know reality. Books with facts could be written so much more interestingly that the child will be supported to investigate further.

Now – obviously such books do exist and there are parents who prioritize introduce real life subjects to their kids, and there certainly are children who are more interested in actual reality than in fiction. But unfortunately the educational environment does not offer a sufficiently innovative perspective on reality.

It is unacceptable that our children are given toys like teddy bears, produced by child workers in China working eighteen hours pr. day for a salary that they can barely live on, and yet we expect the child to develop ‘empathy’ and ‘care’ for other living beings. It is unacceptable that we expect children to grow up and become effective members of society, when we teach them so very little about what it actually means to live in this reality and instead present them with fictitious alternate realities that distorts their ability to see what is here in fact.

It would therefore benefit our children, but even ourselves and the future of this world if we’d create educational material such as toys and songs and books that would have a more direct connection to the reality children grow up in, both their personal reality but also the global reality that we all share. 

In conjunction with this blog series, I suggest to take a moment to read the following blog-post on Basic Income and Teaching where the points I’ve discussed here are further expanded upon.

I recommend reading the following blogs:

Natural Learning Abilities blog series – a MUST READ! 

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