The Uses of Enchantment: Response 2

In accordance with Piaget’s findings, Bettelheim claims that children should not be presented with real and scientific answers to their problems. Instead, they should be given answers that align with their mental view of the world. This can be problematic, however, when parents get too frustrated and when asked to explain something, they default to “because I said so.” I personally believe that children should be given “adult” reasoning, so that they can start to understand the world around them. Presenting a child with more unknowns is not so overwhelming as it is an opportunity for immense learning. Children are gifted with incredible curiosity, and instead of fulfilling that curiosity with shallow answers, adults should be feeding that curiosity by providing more unknowns for the child to ask. Bettelheim defends this idea, claiming, “A child can derive security only from the conviction that he understands now what baffled him before – never from being given facts which create new uncertainties.” In the rest of their world, children may never be able to fully understand everything that they want to. Isn’t it better to show children that they won’t understand everything in their lives earlier on, so that they’re not as frustrated with nothing comes as easy as they expected? This is not to say that there’s no room for imagination. Bettelheim also claims that if we tell children the real facts, they will doubt their own experiences and what their mind can do for themselves. If we were to only trust our own experiences, we might have never come to the conclusion that we live on a sphere. Not everyone as an adult understands how everything around them works, and sometimes we have to take information as it’s given to us without knowing all that goes on behind it. Learning to ask more questions about what is confusing is key to raising informed and intelligent children.

When Bettelheim claims that a child naturally concludes that there is a male or female god, I find that his conclusion is very limited. What about atheist children? Do they also come to the conclusion that there is a god? What about children in polytheistic religions? Do they all believe in guardian angels? If anything, I feel like children are told to accept God (and not question it) in the way that Bettelheim discourages. Bettelheim later claims that “To depreciate protective imagery like this as mere childish projections of an immature mind is to rob the young child of one aspect of the prolonged safety and comfort he needs.” I’m not saying that fairytales are inappropriate for children, and therefore everyone else, but instead that fairytales are for all of us. Entertaining our imagination should be something that happens at all stages of life, not just the beginning ones. To use them solely as teaching mechanisms is to underappreciate their reach and their ability to relate to people of all ages. I am even more confused when Bettelheim goes on to say that people who believe in “black magic,” “astrology,” or daydream are people who have been offered scientific explanations early on, and fail to understand how to master life in realistic ways. If anything, wouldn’t telling children that they should just blindly believe in unrealistic stories help them to translate that blind belief into mystical beings? I also find it interesting that Bettelheim doesn’t mention religion here. If religion is as metaphorical as many claim, shouldn’t children grow out of religion once they understand the metaphor? Why do adults continue to believe in the caring being that Bettelheim mentions is natural for children to believe?

However, when Bettelheim mentions illustrations, I do agree with him. I think allowing children to imagine their own worlds based on descriptions is much more valuable. We are often disappointed when movies render what we’ve imagined differently. Allowing children to make their own assumptions and create their own worlds helps them develop creative skills.

On dreams, Bettelheim explains that fairytales allow children to engage in their fantasies and explore them, without real-life consequences. Bettelheim’s explanation of the evil stepmother is interesting to me. Once, I saw a young girl who wanted to play and get to know a guest that her parents brought. Her parents wanted to talk with the guest, so they told her to sit quietly. Instead, the girl picked up a rag from the kitchen, and began to wash the windows. When I asked what the girl was doing, her mother told me that she sometimes pretended to be Cinderella. I made the connection that the girl thought she was being unfairly treated, and as a result, had to take the part of Cinderella. This switch from good mother to bad mother happened so seamlessly, that it took me by surprise. Although her mother was undoubtedly a caring and loving mother most of the time, seeing her mother behave strictly to her made the daughter feel that she was instantly transported into a fairytale. This relates to how Bettelheim talks about children coming up with reasons why their parents are sometimes mean, such as in the Martian example he gives. Bettelheim’s frequent references to Freud make me question how much he overestimates the subconscious. While our “real” intentions may be hidden to us, they may not exist at all. Frequently referring to the “oedipal period” has helped me gain perspective on where Bettelheim is coming from, and why he can be so focused on the fantastical aspect of fairytales. Using fairytales as a way to release frustration that can be experienced by the pent-up feelings that Freud often describes, makes more sense than seeing fairytales for their enjoyable and imaginative nature.


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