12/13/2011

The STruggle for Meaning

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The Struggle For Meaning


As both an educator and a therapist, Bruno Bettelheim has an in depth way of arguing the case of the importance of how a child’s imagination is challenged in his critique, The Struggle for Meaning. He states, “Today, as in times past, the most important and also the most difficult task in raising a child is helping him to find meaning in life” (77). Children’s books, in general, are not enough to satisfy a child’s imagination; it is through folk and fairytales that children develop ideas and feelings of their own. He goes on to discuss how those general children’s books take away from the child doing any kind of imagining on their own. Bettelheim has had much experience with abnormal children, where he has learned what great importance fairytales have on their lives. Children of all ages need to be able to gain confidence in them, as well as in the world surrounding them. They cannot learn what needs to be known through concrete natural lessons. Bettelheim suggests that fairytales do not sugarcoat any situations; rather, they give a simple life long lesson clearly and exact to the reader. With examples from the fairy tales, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Snow White”, and Rapunzel”, Bettelheim conveys a message that certain themes or characters help children cope with real life situations they come across. We do not know exactly which tales will become successful to our child; however, we can try as many as needed to come across the one that the child responds to in a memorable way. One of the last points that Bettelheim makes is the importance of allowing the children to interpret fairytales for themselves. Adults telling children their meaning of any fairytale may “rob the child of an opportunity” (0) for them to make another interpretation. In conclusion, Bettelheim strongly feels that fairy and folktales “enrich the child’s life” (1) and allow him or her to become imaginative and cope with what life puts in the palm of their hands.


I found myself shaking my head up and down to many of the statements that Bruno Bettelheim had to say as a result of having a fairly strong psychology background. However, there were some instances where I had a hard time accepting some of the statements he made. I completely agree that children need to learn on their own, on their own time, and in their own way. We, as adults and parents, do play an important role in the lives of our children because we must take the initiative to read as many folk and fairytales it takes to give the children an opportunity of choosing good versus evil. Bettelheim had a strong point to prove his discussion on fairytales that show both good and bad characters. I agree that children should be subject to these real life features that people possess, however, I feel that children should still continue to have their right of choice. It is a given that we expect our children to choose the good character to idolize; however, that is not always the case. As a result of him working in a concentration camp, with children having problems far heavier than those children in a public elementary school, he doesn’t take into consideration what those other children might think of the version of “Cinderella” when they make the stepsisters blind by having doves poke out their eyes. Also, “Rapunzel” was accommodating to the young boy for instance, but I do not feel that every child should be put into this category. My point is that I do not feel, as a therapist and educator, that Bettelheim had enough proof to base his argument on the fact that all children need to have fairytales a part of their life to survive.


My final argument is that Bettelheim puts such a strong impact on fairytales. From an aspiring teacher point of view, if the solitary way children learn, grow, and mature were through fairytales, how would everyone survive? It is a known fact that all households do not read to their children daily. As a result of that, when it comes time to teach those children, where do we possibly begin? I agree that fairytales play a part in helping a child deal in life, however, I do not feel that by reading fairytales, they have some magical power that makes a child complete. Completely agreeing with Piaget, children learn through other people, but most importantly, through their own hands-on experiences. Putting such an emphasis on fairytales alone seems, to me, as over analyzing, but being a Freudian, we should expect nothing less. Reading this criticism opened my eyes as a future teacher to think more logically about what I have on my shelves for my students to read during their free time. My final thought is that as long as I abide by the censorship guidelines in my district, I feel children should be open to what the real world is full of good versus evil.


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