Fairy tales and Disney during the early years- dangerous or dreamy?

As a child, I remember being glued to the screen watching Disney classics. I swooned when prince charming kissed the damsel in distress and cheered on the vehement thwarting of evil. I cried inconsolably when parents were invariably bopped off mid-movie. Finally, I remember the exhalation of satisfaction when the movie was over, only to reach for another cassette and perch in my deflated beanbag for more.

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As I grew up, I realized that my ideals were often based on Disney movies and fairytales. Mufasa was the firm but loving father who was taken before his time. Ariel inspired me to be courageous enough to step into new worlds without fear. Pinocchio taught us all to tell the truth and be good. Lady and the tramp taught us to be accepting of all and persevere through trial. Some of my best childhood moments were spent cuddled in bed, immersed in the world of Disney. Fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm kept me enraptured by their dark horror and strange takes on morality.

I watch Disney to this day, but it was when I was teaching third graders when I cringed for the first time reading the story of Cinderella. I watched my students’ eyes grow wide as I read about the cruelties exacted by the vicious stepmother. Later, I realized that I had a child in my class with a stepmother, and she questioned me about why the stepmother had been so nasty. This student confided in me that she always took personal offense when stepparents were portrayed in a negative light. I realized that the connotation regarding stepparents was never positive in the stories we retold.

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As I pondered further on the matter, I realized that while I had many a magical moment with fairytales, I also shed many tears. I developed a phobia of losing my parents as a youngster, and now I wonder if that was because of Bambi and Lion King. Death and loss went hand in hand in most of my favourite movies.

Perhaps the downs made the highs better, but it makes me wonder what lasting impacts these stories had on me.

I also realized that I was holding out for prince charming to rescue me during my teen years. My dreams of romance fizzled out quickly once I passed out of college and I began to realize my own self-worth. I realized I had saved myself many times over and had no desire for a man to do so. If I couldn’t solve a problem myself, I realized that I needed to find a way to resolve it with the help of my constant companions and peers rather than a burly man looking for a weak woman to rescue.

I made it a point to avoid inferences or situations in the classroom that could allude to anything negative.  I still read books that had grave problems and needed critical thinking skills to get out of sticky situations. However, as I’ve grown as a teacher, I have become more mindful of biases, negative connotations, and needless slander for the sake of entertainment. I avoid books/stories that deal with death or loss, as some students have suffered these challenges and are actively working through them.

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This doesn’t mean that we do not discuss stereotypes or deal with tough issues in the classroom. On the contrary, I prefer creating real-life connections through honest discussions, SEL activities, and reflection tasks. We must root our attitudes towards challenges in the knowledge that we are capable of more than we give ourselves credit for.

The issue I have with Disney and fairytales is that it alludes to a lot of stereotypes.

The wicked stepmother, the evil witch, the father willing to give up his children, the harsh parent, the ditzy friend, the helpless princess, the brawny savior, the airhead-these make us put people in boxes where they do not belong.

I enjoy a few of the remakes of original movies such as Maleficent. Telling a story from the villain’s perspective humanizes them and allows us to walk a mile in their shoes. This is an essential aspect of teaching and learning, wherein we question why a person says or does something. The minute we question the information we have; neurons begin firing and enable us to understand information beyond what we are comfortable with.

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We should begin questioning what we see and are comfortable with. Stepping into another person’s shoes is something we do regularly in our classrooms, thus making it vital to whet the stereotypes we teach students unknowingly.

Make room for new stories and fairytales that teach our children about joy, perseverance, and hard work.

Do not bind the next generation with what we grew up with; rather, teach them to create new opinions and knowledge with what they see around them.

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