In Anthology of Children’s Literature mentioned in a lecture from my class, there are two groups involved in the “situation of conflict” regarding the meaning of childhood. Like my professor explained, the first group believes that childhood is a time period in which the preparation for adulthood begins. The second group is those that consider childhood to be “a state in its own right”, in other words, a time to enjoy the excitement of being a child. In my opinion, to enjoy the excitement of being a child has a lot to do with free will. By not having ideas imposed on you, one can appreciate the “adopting of subject positions” or “the adoption of which can make us understandable to ourselves and others” (Nodelman, page 178).
In order for a child to become acquainted with one’s self, or to become empowered by a subject position, certain stories or commentaries are more appropriate than others; to suit a particular type of child.
As stated on page 179 in my Nodelman textbook, identification may lead to manipulation, meaning that a child whom accepts their similarity to a story or character, are asked to believe the presented conclusions regarding right and wrong behavior. These ideologies can very well be imposed on a child (whether intended to do so or not). Isaac Watts was the author of the poem “Against Quarrelling and Fighting”, which was presented in his 1715 publication, Divine Songs for Children. The poem was a part of a collection that was read in Protestant school books for generations. Rather than taking the arbitrary route in imposing religious maturity on children, Watts took the enticing approach; he created his poems with “universal appeal” (Zipes, 528).
Religious children would enjoy Watts’ poem because it speaks to them on a mutual level; for example, the utilization of words such as “you should never” rather than “you will never”. The gentle words presented in “Against Quarrelling and Fighting” may reach children on a whole other level than that of forceful principle or propaganda. Forceful piety could very well result in children turning away from their religious beliefs, as time goes on. Children should not be pressured to adhere to what behavior may be acceptable under religious guidelines. However, many believe that they cannot exercise free will unless some time of information is demonstrated before them. Certain ideologies or subject positions can be derived in a positive light from Watts’ poem. A religious child may find comfort in Watts’ writings:
Now Lord of all he reigns above,
And from his heavenly throne,
He sees what children dwell in love,
And marks them for his own.
Watts focuses on the positive. Rather than having a child read what their fate would be shall they lie, curse, or scuff, they are discovering that they will be accepted by the hand of God if they act conventionally.
Another story that may appeal to religious children is “Jessica’s First Prayer” by Hesba Stretton, as it tells the tale of a child that discovers spirituality. The sequence of events, however, is also fit for a child that has experienced abuse in his or her lifetime. A child that has been or is being abused (physically or mentally) may experience an array of emotions; humiliation, loneliness, and neglect can be three of many. Jessica is a character of bravery. Her bravery triggers curiosity that prompts her to uncover a system of beliefs. This ultimately leads up to the discovery of the Christian faith, thus warming the heart of her “friend” and minister Daniel, whom adopts her. I say this story can touch both abused and religious children because of its heart-rending figuration. Religious children could find pleasure in the fact that Jessica had “found God”, so to speak. Abused children could find comfort in the idea that when there is no one else to turn to; you can always turn to religion. You can find prayer in sorrow. Also, the moment when Daniel discovers his love for Jessica can give a child hope; an understanding that love can still exist outside of the abusive home in which they live in. They may find a place to escape to; a place where someone like Daniel can love them as well.
When a child adopts subject positions, more often than not, it is influenced by what they have or have not experienced. Children that are raised by same-sex parents have never known both a mother and a father; they were never introduced to what we would call “the norm”, so to speak. In Robert Munsch’s tale of “The Paper Bag Princess”, the character Elizabeth surely breaks the mold of the stereotypical female. The story sends a feminist, nonsexist, non-traditional, message. Typically, the princess (Elizabeth) should find her Prince (Ronald) and live happily ever after. When she arrives, they both come to the conclusion that they are not right for each other; quite surprising really, as not many fairy tales end in this particular manner.
The story sends a message to children that sometimes “normal” isn’t quite so normal. What is normal anyway? As children, the idea of man and woman living happily ever after was imposed on us in almost every fairy tale; i.e.: Cinderella and Snow White. Never once did the characters decide that they should not be together, until “The Paper Bag Princess”. Elizabeth is not your typical princess. She is brave, sarcastic, and sees her prince as “unfit” for her. She could possibly represent a woman that enters a same-sex marriage, which is also often seen as non-typical, or unconventional. This story reminds this particular type of child that it is okay for their situation to be unconventional.
According to a blog written by Dr. John Grohol on psychcentral.com, same-sex couples are less likely to impose certain gender-based expectations on their children.
“If we want what’s best for the children, then, we have to acknowledge that gay parents don’t pose any particular problem. In fact, such parents may actually help raise more gender-neutral children who are open to more possibilities for their careers and lives. Food for thought as the gay marriage debate continues on throughout the country.” (Grohol, http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/11/09/children-of-gay-parents/)
This supports my theory on adopting subject positions. Children can only embrace them by not having ideas imposed on them. Whether these ideas are gender-based or religious, children will not understand how the world works unless there is some free will involved. Stories with open-minded views are likely to help accomplish this.
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