Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gingrich on Ending Adolescence

Writing in Business Week, Newt Gingrich argues for ending adolescence. He sounds as if he has been reading Robert Epstein (whose thoughts and book were discussed here, here, and here). Here's a quote from Gingrich:
Prior to the 19th century, it's fair to say that adolescence did not exist. Instead, there was virtually universal acceptance that puberty marked the transition from childhood to young adulthood. Whether with the Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah ceremony of the Jewish faith or confirmation in the Catholic Church or any hundreds of rites of passage in societies around the planet, it was understood you were either a child or a young adult.
* * *
Adolescence was invented in the 19th century to enable middle-class families to keep their children out of sweatshops. But it has degenerated into a process of enforced boredom and age segregation that has produced one of the most destructive social arrangements in human history: consigning 13-year-old males to learning from 15-year-old males.
It's hard to put into words how strongly I sympathize with this line of thinking.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sanitized Fairy Tales

I liked this Boston Globe article arguing that the "glossy, sanitized new versions of fairy tales leave out what matters: the scary parts." The author points to an egregious retelling of Rapunzel, in which Rapunzel stays with a "kind witch."

One fairy tale that couldn't really be sanitized -- because there'd be nothing left -- is "The Dog and the Sparrow," which you can read online here. It's from Grimm's Fairy Tales. I hadn't ever heard of it, as it doesn't seem to be in most fairytale books. I first came across it in an old book that I was reading to my kids the other night.

The story started out nicely enough, with a sparrow helping a hungry dog to get some food. Then everything goes downhill: A surly "wagoner" runs over the dog on purpose as it sleeps in the middle of the road. For the rest of the story, the sparrow takes systematic revenge, first draining the wagoner's casks of wine, then taunting the wagoner by pecking at his horses' eyes. The wagoner kills all three of his horses accidentally when he tries to strike the sparrow with his hatchet. The sparrow follows him inside his home, and the wagoner's house gets destroyed as he keeps trying to hack at the sparrow. Finally, he catches the sparrow, and tells his wife to hit it with the hatchet. She accidentally hits him on the head instead, thereby killing him, and the sparrow flies away.

I couldn't help laughing at how morbid the story was. Anyway, it was a good lesson for the kids: Don't try to hit sparrows with a hatchet.