Is there a Time for Editing Literature
The following is a discussion of the issues considered in the Enki (edited) version f Little House on the Prairies. To receive a complimentary pdf copy of this edited companion book (you need the original as well) simply contact the office at email@example.com. See our Facebook page for photos of children building a model log cabin - Ingalls style - in connection with this unit.
Enki Education is happy to wade into the current debate on the wisdom of editing literature. In a curriculum in which story is the core teaching tool, this is an important topic. It is also particularly important for Enki Education because we work with a Global Cultures Curriculum and much classic literature contains prejudices and biases of an earlier time period. But is it a black and white situation?
We feel this question does not have black and white answers. Rather, we see shades of gray that follow the progression of child development. What is true for Huckleberry Finn, a book for adolescents, may not be true for Little House on the Prairie, a book for 7-9 year olds. Click here for more information. See post below for Little House on the Prairie project photos, and links to an edited version of this book.
Many will cry foul at the thought of editing literature. But, in reality, we all make choices about what our children do and do not hear - hopefully, no one is reading Lady Chatterley's Lover to 10 year olds! So it is not really about whether, but what and when. From the Enki perspective, Huckleberry Finn, the current focus of public debate, is the easy one. It is really a book for teens or older book and by then the children are at an age to reflect and analyze effectively. The issues raised by the original language - as well as Huck's fierce loyalty to Jim and his tackling the moral dilemmas - are all appropriate material for the adolescent with his conceptual (though not often rational) brain operating in full swing.
Our concern is with Little House on the Prairie. Why Little House? Because it is a fabulous book for young children (7-9 years old). It brings the pioneer experience forward in a way that little else can, and in a way that is developmentally relevant to the 7-9 year old. However, this story also contains some blatantly racist remarks about Indians. At this age (before the time of real abstract thinking or formal operations) children absorb story as heart-reality. Therefore, many of these comments would, we feel, breed racism.
Can the children talk about these issues and sound rational and clear? Fair minded and wise? Could you read it and talk through issues of prejudice with a child under 10-12 years old? Yes - and two year olds can out reason the best of us. But what is happening inside the children is that words like "filthy savages" and "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" come to live in them. Ma Ingalls has come to be the children's ground out there on the prairie - they love her as Laura and Mary love her. So her fear becomes their fear. Story lives deeply in children, no matter what seemingly rational things they can say to please us. Story will sit in their hearts and form their reality - easily defeating any concepts or rational ideas. That is why story is the heart of both the Enki and Waldorf curricula. With this understanding, we edit and choose with care.
We do feel that the experience of fear, so fully brought forward through Ma Ingalls, is important to the child of this age and to this story. But the attributing of that fear to the Indians as a people, is not. This fear is a fear of other - a fear of strangers - and that can be brought to life without the highly racist comments. So, to this end, we have edited the story with as much care and as little change as we felt possible. Where editing would have meant major change, we left out complete sections or chapters. We feel that the resulting version continues to bring forth the awesome nature of pioneer life with all its challenges and fears, without planting deep seeds of racism. We suggest either using this version, or waiting until the children are at least 10 years old to read it.
For a complimentary pdf of the edited version, simply email Enki Education at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put Little House in the subject line to speed up processing.
Have a look at the postings on our Facebook page to see the wonderful adventure 2 seven year old homeschoolers had with a Little House on the Prairie unit this fall (edited version).