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English rhymes are often thinly veiled cautionary tales that are often pretty violent too. Maybe we should think again about teaching them to impressionable minds.
With a 1 year old daughter, I have been busy learning new rhymes in both English and my native language to sing to her. One day I decided to sing along with actions. After a couple of songs, I realised that our children should probably not be taught some of those English nursery rhymes.
Jack breaks his head while Jill tumbles after him. The tails of the three blind mice are cut off by the farmer’s wife. Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall. London bridge and all the cars plying over it fall down. A baby’s cradle is hung from the tree and a wind that follows makes the baby fall. A driver breaks piggy’s bones and says, ‘I don’t care’. Old woman who lived in a shoe beat her hungry children to sleep.
At an age when we should be inculcating good habits and compassion, we are actually teaching our kids about violence. While people are busy arguing against body shaming, ‘Chubby Cheeks’ does exactly the opposite, giving feature details of a teacher’s pet student.
All these rhymes do have a dark history behind them. ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’ is about the tax imposed on wool and also hints at racism. ‘London Bridge is falling down’ is based on a Viking attack. ‘Here we go round the mulberry bush’ is about England’s Wakefield Prison. Back then, going against royalty was punishable by death and therefore, people included thinly veiled messages within songs. They added a catchy tune to the lyrics and passed it off as children’s entertainment. This worked well among the illiterate as well. The rhythm and tune caught on and to this day, the children sing these songs oblivious to their meaning.
All said and done, there are other rhymes that are fun too! ‘Old MacDonald’, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’, ‘I’m a Little Teapot’, ‘Are you sleeping’, ‘Bits of Paper’ are a few. Repeated words, rhyming words, a catchy tune are all kids’ favourites. Though they might not understand the true meaning of the rhymes, some of them might just be curious enough to ask the adults to explain. While some might opine that teaching our kids early about survival skills and the ways of the world could be a good thing, I don’t think those young, tender minds have the maturity to understand the nuances.
But looking at this from a different perspective, even the cartoons depict violence. Powerpuff Girls, Tom & Jerry, Minions, Donald Duck, Scooby Doo – all have a hero/heroine and a nemesis. Children laugh their heads off when Tom bangs his face on an iron box or when a character skids on a banana peel. The only difference is that good always wins over the evil in these cartoons. They end with a note of positivity, thus harbouring hope for good in the children’s mind. Unlike the few rhymes, which do nothing but simply state the facts.
We have enough negativity in the world already. There is no need to emphasis it further, and that too at such a young age. Well, at least, that’s my opinion. What’s yours?
Published here earlier.
Image source: Flickr, for representational purposes only