Over Christmas break, my niece and nephew were watching a kids’ show during breakfast. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be memorable, but the moral lesson of the story bothered me a little.
Super Why is advertised as “a breakthrough preschool series designed to help kids ages 3 to 6 with the critical skills that they need to learn to read (and love to read!) as recommended by the National Reading Panel (alphabet skills, word families, spelling, comprehension and vocabulary).” If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering why a show about teaching skills has moral lessons at all.
“In every episode, one of the friends encounters a problem with another Storybrook Village character (For instance, Jill from the Jack and Jill rhyme is not being nice). As in real life, the problems require preschool social skills to resolve. And that’s when SUPER WHY gets super-powered! Whyatt calls his fairy tale friends to their secret clubhouse, named “The Book Club,” where they transform themselves from mere mortals into literacy-powered super heroes: Alpha Pig with “Alphabet Power,” Wonder Red with “Word Power,” Princess Presto with “Spelling Power,” Super Why with the “Power to Read,” and your child-Super You, with the “Power to Help.” Using their super powers, these Super Readers literally fly inside books. The adventure begins as the Super Readers find out how famous fictional characters handled similar situations (Why is the big bad wolf so big and bad?). This adventure inside a book helps the Super Readers figure out the answers to their own problems. Be prepared to hear: Super Why and the Super Readers.to the rescue!”
Oh. That’s why. Well, what was the lesson I objected to? Episode 130 is called “The Goose and the Golden Eggs”. The Super Why episode is teased as follows:
“Red’s friends would love to try some of her delicious apples, but Red wants to keep them all for herself! The Super Readers venture into the story of the Goose and the Golden Eggs to visit an old man who is as protective of his special eggs as Red is of her delicious fruit. This old man must learn his lesson, before his golden goose flies the coop! And Red needs to find out how share with her friends.”
That description leaves a bit to be desired. Here’s how I’d describe it:
Red is picking apples when a friend comes along and asks for some. Red wants to keep all her apples, but she doesn’t want to make her friend sad, either. She consults with her Super Reader pals to find out what to do. They end up going into a story they call “The Goose and the Golden Eggs”. In this story, a man owns a goose that lays golden eggs. His neighbors all want some, but he doesn’t want to give any away. In the end, he mends his selfish ways and shares eggs with the neighbors. The Super Readers learn the lesson of sharing, leading Red to end her stinginess and share her apples with her friend. They live happily until the next adventure.
I have several problems with this story. First, there’s little similarity with Aesop’s fable.
“A man and his wife had the good fortune to possess a goose which laid a golden egg every day. Lucky though they were, they soon began to think they were not getting rich fast enough, and, imagining the bird must be made of gold inside, they decided to kill it. Then, they thought, they could obtain the whole store of precious metal at once; however, upon cutting the goose open, they found its innards to be like that of any other goose.”
That’s a minor issue, though. If writers for a kids’ show want to create their own fable to tell a story, that’s fine. My second objection is that the story has a moral at all. Why should a show that’s supposed to teach literacy teach morals? Well, one could argue that that’s a minor point as well. OK, I’ll grant that. What’s my third and biggest objection, then? It’s the moral itself.
We – and, more importantly, our kids – are supposed to understand and learn that both Red and the man are being selfish and should be sharing with others.
Red’s friend just came along and asked for some apples like she was entitled to them. She’s not. The man’s neighbors ask for his golden eggs like they’re entitled to them. They’re not.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to sharing. I’d be a very poor example as a Catholic if I were. 😉 Would sharing with her friend be a kind and charitable thing for Red to do? Yes, of course it would. If, out of the kindness of her heart or affection for her friend Red wants to share her apples, that’s her prerogative and right. After all, the apples belong to her, and she can do with them whatever she’d like. Sharing is a choice, an admirable one at that, but not an obligation.
Why wouldn’t Red want to share her apples, though? Since we’re dealing with a preschool cartoon with a plot as deep as a puddle, we can’t expect a lot of contextual details, but we can take a cue from the show and use our imaginations.
We can reasonable assume that Red has been working by herself for a while to pick apples and her friend didn’t help with the picking at all. It appears that she hasn’t been doing any work recently, for that matter. She doesn’t offer Red anything in trade or payment for the apples – immediately or as an IOU. Red has no objective reason to give her friend apples without compensation. Furthermore, it’s rude, selfish, prideful, lazy, and unjust for anyone to demand someone else give up their property – the fruits of their labors – especially without compensation.
That’s not a moral lesson I want my kids to learn.
How about the man and his golden eggs? Should he just give them away to his neighbors? Again, if he chose to be charitable, that’s his prerogative, not an obligation. His situation is a little different than Red’s, though. Whatever it takes to keep the goose alive and in good health is trivial in comparison to the value of the eggs she lays. The man hasn’t, in any meaningful way, earned the eggs. Of course, the fact that the man is fortunate rather than a hard worker doesn’t mean he’s any more obligated to share that fortune. I just don’t think only showing the man hoarding the eggs is a lesson I’d want my kids to learn, either.
So, if he’s not obliged to share the eggs, and kids should be shown a fruitful use for them, what should the man do? He should buy purchase goods with them, preferably from his mooching neighbors. That way, he satisfies his needs and wants, and his neighbors receive something valuable in return. They can, in turn, trade their eggs for needs and wants. Because the eggs are made of gold, they have lasting value and make ideal currency. Voila! You now have the recipe for a fairytale lesson on the free market and hard money! The man could even be shown giving some of his eggs to a worthy cause to teach kids a little about how charity works in the free market. We can save the lessons about the injustice of wealth redistribution for another episode. 😉
In summary, this show’s that’s just supposed to teach kids how to read is also teaching them dubious moral lessons. I don’t want my kids to respect the notion of entitlement. They have the right to be secure in their lives, their liberty, their property, and their dignity. Everything else must be earned. Charity is laudable, but transfers of wealth cease to be charity when they’re enacted through force or coercion.
I don’t plan on making a regular habit of talking about political philosophies on this daddy blog. It’s bound to happen from time to time, though. There are lessons I want my kids to learn and other I don’t. Ideas society should be organized and governed will be presented to them through friends, family, school, and media, so I’d better throw my two cents in early and often if I want to raise them right.
These days I’m trying to teach Alex the principle of non-aggression. I’d call his frequent slapping of his mom and brother an epic fail on my part. 😉