I posted on the subject of censorship some time ago, however, a new and more odious form of censorship has now been brought to my attention which I feel warrants a follow-up post.
In a Facebook group I am part of someone asked if Enid Blyton’s books were “of concern” due to their fantasy and magic content. Now having a reasonable view of such things I thought it was a wind-up and responded accordingly. How wrong I was! Apparently even the innocuous and gentle Enid Blyton early readers can come under fire from the book banning movement.
This particular concern is raised by the religious fundamentalists who consider the practice of magic to be abhorrent – but also believe magic is fiction and doesn’t exist. This raises the obvious question of a quite major self-contradiction. If someone doesn’t believe magic exists then how can they be worried about their children being influenced to practice magic by a fiction book? Indeed such a preoccupation with, and vehement disparagement of, something that is not real as being ‘evil’ is a little worrying.
Some parents expressed concern that their children wouldn’t be able to tell fact from fiction and would think the fantasy elements were actually real. This is unlikely to be true even of very young children. As soon as children are old enough to follow a story they have some sense that something is “a story” i.e. not true. The University of Texas conducted a study in 2006 that showed children learn to distinguish between fantasy and reality between the ages of 3 and 5. As the early readers are aimed at 5-8 year olds this surely blows this particular argument out of the water? If only it were that simple.
A study released in 2014 in the journal “Cognitive Science” found that in terms of being able to distinguish between fantasy and reality children raised in a religious household are significantly disadvantaged compared to those raised in a non-religious household. This impairment of cognitive development caused by the teaching of religious stories as truth to young children may mean the point is actually valid for the children of those parents who were concerned about this very thing, even though other children would not experience the same difficulties. The study concluded that in religious households children are likely to believe anything a parent tells them is true, no matter how implausible and unrealistic they are.
However, the reactions of the children who were not from religious households shows that the traditional view that children naturally suspend disbelief and have an affinity for belief in religious ideas is completely incorrect. Indeed when not indoctrinated otherwise by their well-meaning, if misguided, parents; children are actually born sceptics. This is good news for those who were concerned by the outburst of Richard Dawkins in 2014, when he suggested that reading fantasy stories to children has the potential to impair their development of logical thinking skills and ability to distinguish fantasy from reality. Indeed it seems that provided they are not taught any of the implausible stories of magic and fantasy are factual by parents and/or teachers children are perfectly capable of figuring out for themselves what is real and what is not.
Good news for parents, writers and readers alike then. There is no harm whatsoever in reading fantasy stories to your children, or in allowing them to read such stories alone when they are capable. They are perfectly able to distinguish fact from fiction when the fiction is totally implausible – just don’t make the mistake of indoctrinating them to believe that one set of implausible and unrealistic stories are actually real, because that’s when you run into trouble.