Recently I have returned to tutoring French. I have been using a great series of books from the library, that have levels 1 through 4, so that my students can progress through the levels as their reading comprehension improves in French. It’s a great system and I’m glad to have access for free at the library. The only challenge is that I question the message shared in the books. I wonder what lessons we are trying to impart on our children, based on the fables outlined in these books.
First, “Le Renard et le Corbeau” or the Fox and the Crow. Basically, the Fox is hungry and comes across the Crow, who has a piece of cheese in his beak. The Fox compliments the Crow for his singing voice, and the Crow proceeds to show him and in the process drops the cheese. The Fox picks up the cheese and says “Don’t always believe people who say nice things,” … Sometimes they just want something from you,”
The lesson here is that people who say nice things can be insincere and you shouldn’t trust them because they might just want something from you. For the young reader who is reading at this level, it seems early in life to teach them this “lesson” – isn’t it better to think the best of people and take a compliment at face value? How many of us grew up thinking that anytime someone complimented us, they just wanted something from us? Whatever happened to taking a compliment seriously and just saying thank-you?
The second book is called “Le Poisson Magique” or the Magic Fish. Briefly, it is the story of a poor fisherman who catches a magic fish. He brings the fish home to his wife, where the fish then offers them 3 wishes. First, the fisherman wishes to be rich. Then his wife asks for the second wish, to be even richer. Finally, the wife asks for the 3rd wish – to be even RICHER. The fish grants the wish, but then decides that the wife has asked for too much and undoes all of the wishes and makes them poor again.
The lesson here – don’t ask for too much or it will be taken away. And the second message, being poor and kind is better than being rich and greedy.
While reading both of these stories with my students, I was quite shocked at the messages they were selling. Both stories are based on longer traditional fables, so these “morals” have been around for centuries. In fact there are probably dozens of fables that reinforce these beliefs – especially that being rich is bad and being poor is good. Considering the state of economy world-wide, shouldn’t we be teaching our kids that it’s ok to be rich and that you can be a good person AND be rich? That being rich can be a GOOD thing, since many of the rich provide jobs for others by building businesses.