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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Should kids be protected from truths?

    Are penguins teaching children facts that parents would rather their kids didn’t know?

    If you’ve seen “”Happy Feet,”” you’ll know what I’m talking about. The first part of the movie is your average children’s movie, complete with an “”accept others who are different from you”” moral. Then, because the character who was shunned for being different is blamed for the penguins’ shortage of fish, “”Happy Feet”” unexpectedly becomes a tragedy, narrating how humans have disrupted the Antarctic food chain.

    Though the movie was largely liked, many reviewers found this invasion of unpleasant reality in a children’s film odd to say the least.

    “”It piles lots of contemporary issues on what should be a simple children’s fable,”” said one particularly unimpressed reviewer from the Kansas City Star.

    Even more provocative has been another piece of children’s media starring penguins: “”And Tango Makes Three.”” This picture book tells the true story of two male penguins in a New York zoo who spent six years as mates. After they attempted to incubate a rock as if it were an egg, they were eventually given a real abandoned egg. The egg hatched, baby Tango was born, and someone wrote a book about it.

    “”And Tango Makes Three”” has parents in some school districts, most notably that in Shiloh, Ill., on the warpath. The parents in Shiloh requested that the book be taken out of the children’s section and perhaps even be placed in a mature section of the library. They suggested requiring parental permission before a child could check out the book.

    Both in Shiloh and a school district in Missouri, the book was taken out of the children’s book section and moved to the nonfiction section.

    Indeed, that seems to be the question at the crux of both penguin problems: When are children ready for nonfiction – for reality?

    The bluntness of the presentation of ecological problems in “”Happy Feet”” doesn’t seem to be the aspect that bugs reviewers. The extremely successful “”Toy Story”” plainly showed children torturing toys in a very scary manner. That was apparentlyOK, though, because it wasn’t real. To show wild animals that really exist and the changes to their lives that really are occurring because of humans – that’s unacceptable.

    The parents who feel that “”And Tango Makes Three”” is unacceptable also seem to be bothered by the entrance of real life into their children’s stories. In an Associated Press article, one of the Shiloh mothers said, “”We know the kids eventually are going to learn about the homosexual lifestyle. …Please let us decide when our kids are ready.””

    So, when are kids ready to learn about the problem of overfishing or the existence of gay people (and animals)?

    If kids aren’t ready to learn these facts of life by the age of 8 (“”Tango”” was written for children between 4 and 8), when are they ready? At 18? At 21?

    Nobody’s saying that we should tell preschoolers that there’s no Santa Claus. But both humans’ consumption of natural resources and humans’ occasional inclination to pair up with a member of the same gender are simply facts of life. They’re not scary things, like rape or genocide, which children aren’t yet able to understand.

    Most importantly, the best way to make things seem scary or foreign or dangerous to children is to keep them a secret.

    Whether or not a person cares that the world’s fish will all be gone in 50 years or believes that homosexuality is as natural as a penguin, environmental problems and gay people will continue to exist. Pretending that they don’t doesn’t make them go away.

    As children grow up, they will encounter things that are outside of the fairy-tale happy-ending paradigm that characterizes children’s stories. They’re more likely to view those things rationally and with understanding if the realization that they exist doesn’t come as some kind of unpleasant shock.

    In fact, “”Happy Feet”” and “”Tango”” do child-proof the truth a little. It’s not as if the movie shows starved penguin corpses rotting on the ice, or as if the book describes Tango’s two fathers as having a relationship any more sexual than any other parents in a children’s’ book.

    And that’s exactly right. Children should be allowed their innocence. Nor, however, should they be allowed to grow up in a world where the parts of reality that aren’t fictionalized candy and rainbows are censored.

    We can’t always control when children see those real parts of life for themselves. We can only ensure that children aren’t afraid as they experience new concepts, by allowing children to be aware of those concepts from the start.

    Lillie Kilburn is a psychology sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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