(This post got away from me a bit, but I was super annoyed…so enjoy the rant.)
Richard Dawkins kinda annoys me.
No wait, let me honest here.
I might find it really difficult to not punch him right in the face if I met him in person. I wouldn’t do it, but boy would I be tempted.
Especially after this.
Fairy tales and believing in Father Christmas could cause children harm.
This is according to controversial biologist Richard Dawkins who warned an audience at the Cheltenham Science Festival about the dangers of make-believe.
In typically incendiary style, Dawkins suggested it was ‘pernicious to instil in a child the view that the world is shaped by supernaturalism.’
The 73-year-old acknowledged that the appeal of fairytales lay in their magic but believes they may be causing more harm than we think.
He also questioned whether we should let children believe in the myth of Father Christmas at all.
‘Is it a good thing to go along with the fantasy of childhood?,’ he said. ‘Or should we be fostering a spirit of scepticism?.’
I honestly do not know what I would have done with my childhood without fairytales and fantasy novels feeding my imagination. In fact I don’t know where I would be today in my personal or professional life without these things.
I read voraciously as a child and a teenager, most of it fantasy and fairy tale based. I was never hugely interested in science or mathematics, but English and history classes, anything where the story of an event was the most important part, I excelled in. This was what kept me going to school and turned me into someone who loved learning, rather than someone who cut class and flunked out.
My love of fiction, fantasy and fairy tales especially, also taught me a great deal about right and wrong, ethics and morality, peer pressure, hope, and loyalty.
The fact that my parents read to me when I was a child and took me to the library as often as I wanted (where I devoured fantastical stories about fairies and knights and dragons) gave me a love of reading and writing that has made me a better student and a better person.
The point of fairy tales and fiction is not to lie to our children. The point is to expose them to ideas and other cultures, abstract ideas that a child is simply not equipped to deal with in reality until they are older, virtues that will help them grow into strong adults, and lessons that teach our children, early on, how to avoid the pitfalls of adulthood by showing them that actions have consequences.You can claim fairy tales are old fashioned, sexist, or too “supernatural” all you want, but takes a very narrow minded view of what the themes and ideas of these stories are, not to mention a really low opinion of children’s intelligence. I have yet to meet an adult whose mind was so addled by fairy tales as a child that they could not differentiate between fantasy and reality as an adult. There is nothing wrong with fostering imagination and fanciful thought in a child. There is no reason why we must spend every second a child’s formative years smashing their wonder and imagination and telling them they aren’t allowed to believe in fairy godmothers or women with hair long enough to climb because it doesn’t foster a spirit of skepticism. Where does this even end? If fairy tales are bad for fostering an acceptance of magic, then what of A Mid-Summer’s Nights Dream or A Christmas Carol, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings? What of the dozens of pieces of classic literature, hailing from your country and the histories of a half dozen other empires? Are they not appropriate for children either? Childhood ends soon enough (and children who love reading, whether they love Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales or A Brief History of Time, fair better than children who do not) and it takes a very sad person to want to end the magic of childhood early.
Look, Dick, I get it. You had a really screwed up childhood. I’ve read the stories about how a teacher molested you and how your prep school years were full of being bullied. Your childhood sucked and, even though it appears you can’t see the damage it did, it did leave scars. I feel bad for you, all feelings of wishing to punch you right in the nose aside, I really do wish your childhood had been better.
No child deserves to have things like that happen to them.
But that doesn’t give you the right to stomp all the joy out of other children’s lives and try to smash every bit of wonder and imagination out of the world, because you think fairy tales are “pernicious lies”.
I think maybe you don’t have the frame of reference necessary to decide what is or is not harmful for childhood development. Perhaps, if you stopped thinking you are better and smarter than everyone else for a second and consulted a child psychologist or the parent of a child (or, better still, an actual child) on the importance of fairy tales, you might find you don’t know everything and you might just be wrong about something.