kids with books 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I expect that I am not the only grandmother, who while reading classical fairy
tales to her grandchildren, finds herself replacing certain words with others,
or simply skipping altogether certain sentences, that are “politically
incorrect” because they describe excessive cruelty and violence, prejudice and
Quite honestly, I do not remember what I felt
about these stories when I read them to my children nearly 40 years ago, but
since the modern liberal definition of political correctness – which takes a
pluralistic and tolerant view of race, gender, disability, ethnicity, sexual
orientation, culture and world-views – entered our consciousnesses full force
only in the 90s (when my own children were already in their 20s), I expect I
simply didn’t give the matter much thought.
Of course, what constitutes
“political correctness” is a function of one’s political, social, cultural and
religious orientation. What is viewed as politically correct in Israel by
secular liberal Jews is very different than what is considered politically
correct by haredim, settlers (both religious and secular), or even secular
For better or worse, the haredim are the group that is most
particular in terms of what stories their children are exposed to, and this is
part of the general principle that the individual should have very little choice
in terms of how he lives, what he is exposed to, and what views he holds. The
haredim in fact reject lock, stock and barrel, the “political correctness” of
the secular liberals. Those who seem to ponder most about this issue are the
secular liberals, and their conclusions are far from resolute.
list of 16 books for preschool children that may be viewed qualitative from a
literary point of view, while reflecting values of social justice, was prepared
by an NGO called “Bikurim” that utilizes literary tools in order to promote
values of multiculturalism, otherness and dialogue in Israel, in cooperation
with two other institutions. Within secular-liberal circles opinions differ as
to whether such a list is desirable or not.
Those who favor the list
point out that since according to certain studies children start formulating
stereotypes and concepts regarding right and wrong at the age of three to four,
it is important to consciously expose them to stories that strengthen desirable
stereotypes and values, while avoiding, as far as possible, those that that do
This is, of course, easier said than done.
For example, I was
quite surprised to find on the list of 16 books, a translation into Hebrew of
Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf, written in 1936. The story is about a bull
called Ferdinand, who is picked up from the meadow where he grew up, and brought
in a cart to Madrid in order to participate in a bullfight. But Ferdinand
refuses to fight, and sits in the middle of the bullring, smelling the flowers
on the hats of the ladies in the audience.
The story has a happy end, and
Ferdinand is returned to his meadow. As a child, this was one of my favorite
books, together with some books that today are considered terribly incorrect,
such as Little Black Sambo. However, is Ferdinand the Bull really politically
correct? For example, the background to the story is the institution of
bullfighting – a controversial sport (or is it a form of art?) which is
considered by animal rights supporters (and others) to be a “blood sport” that
ought to be banned altogether. Besides, even though in the case of Ferdinand,
participating in the fight would have certainly led to his death, the choice of
passivity and avoidance of violence is not necessarily desirable, especially in
a situation where one confronts a real danger to one’s existence, as Israel
Not everyone in the secular liberal camp is happy about
the list. Some feel that children ought to be exposed to all sorts of stories
that form part of the cultural heritage of their parents and the state, be it
part of the Jewish heritage (including the stories of the Bible that are not
always easy to fathom); the European heritage; the Middle Eastern heritage; or
the heritage of other regions in the world from which migrants (both Jewish and
non-Jewish) came to Israel.
In all these heritages there are values that
anyone can embrace with both hands, and others that can be rejected out of hand.
Children must learn that life isn’t black and white, that the reality is varied
and complicated, and that side by side with good and justice, there is also evil
and injustice. In the final analysis, it is really up to the parents and
educators to help them deal with reality and formulate their own world of
Others feel that it is dangerous to appoint commissars, with the
power of censorship, to determine what is kosher and what is not. It is worse if
the commissars are self-appointed. Though professional guidance can be helpful,
and many parents might welcome such guidance, there is something very arbitrary
and peremptory about a closed list.
A third group of doubters points out
that the preparation of a list of books that is favored by one group will
encourage other groups to publish rival lists that propagate totally different
values, and this will merely increase the alienation and estrangement among the
various groups in the society. Isn’t it preferable to try and emphasize those
values that we all share, in the assumption that we still do share some values?
In short, there are really no simple answers.The writer teaches at the
Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and was a Knesset employee for many years.