Imagination and the Thinking Child

Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireAccording to a recent blog post (The Imagination of the Child) by the principal of an alternative school in the UK, contemporary fantasy fiction is a threat to children’s mental health, and parents who don’t restrict their children’s access to such fiction are feckless. The UK Guardian, Telegraph, and Independent, all published online articles about the danger and absurdity of the principal’s claim that works works by Shelly, Dickens and Shakespeare were better suited to the ‘innocence’ of children than works by Tolkien, Rowling, and Suzanne Collins. Truth be told, the principal’s blog post is not as straightforward as it’s been portrayed. Rather it is a hot mess of psychobabble and Luddism delivered with poor English expression. I particularly liked the bit where he states that children “do not have thinking brains until, at the earliest, fourteen years of age.”

Say what?

I’m 100% confident that almost-7yo Rainbow Girl has a thinking brain, and a highly imaginative thinking brain it is too. She loves a good fantasy story, and she loves role playing her favourite characters. Occasionally, very thoughtfully, she will check in with us about what is real, and what is not real, and will even ask “What does this mean?” because she knows, as an experienced consumer of fairy tales, that sometimes meaning is not literal. When you have the life experience of a 7yo it can be difficult to pin down meaning without help, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sense that there is more to things than meets the eye.

This is not to say that Rainbow Girl is never scared by fantasy fiction. When she was around three years old she would ask for Red Riding Hood without the Wolf (that’s the story where Red Riding Hood takes lemonade and cake to her Grandmother’s house and they have a nice tea…)  More recently she decided to take a break from Harry Potter about one hundred pages into The Goblet of Fire, because Voldemort was giving her nightmares. As a parent I don’t feel like her Voldemort nightmares were a sign of deteriorating mental health anymore than her nightmares about sandcastles washing out to sea are a sign that her ‘innocence’ has in someway been violated. Indeed sandcastles washing out to sea epitomise transience, a matter that it is right and proper for her to recognise and explore, even as a child. Placing The Goblet of Fire back on the shelf was an easy fix for the nighttime Voldemort woes. If only the sandcastle business was as straightforward.

But back to the school principal. One of the things he made reference to in his blog post was sensationalism. To me there is a kind of irony here in the way the media latched on to his strange, rambling blog post, stirring up a blip of internet outrage against a man’s belief that The Old is more wholesome fare for the young than The New. I look at the same blog post and see a school principal who underestimates his students, whose grasp of grammar and clear thinking is questionable, and who is quite possibly is not as mentally robust as he proclaims. I hope, for the sake of his students that their parents recognise there is a problem here, and take appropriate action.

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