It is a consistent relief, to plan lessons for elementary school aged children, knowing that I am permitted to foreground morality as an influential element to literature. More precisely, I need not worry and fret over whether I personally appear to be supporting a moral take-away. I need not agonize over how not to reveal what I find to be true and valuable. I can share a story precisely because it is intended to steer us humans towards good actions and thoughtful interactions.
When I taught adults, there was the unspoken expectation that I operate in the seemingly objective manner which aligns with the pseudo-intellectual estimation that “everything is relative.” It was a rather tortured parlor trick, to remove all vestiges of, for example: my considerable esteem for such figures as MLK; the formative nature of my respect for the searing, humanist insights of John Steinbeck; my deep conviction that the traditional tribal teachings about the absolute imperative of respecting the animal world represents one of the most pragmatic and evolved philosophies in human existence.
Certainly, practical matters of diction and vocabulary preclude such utterances to groupings of 5-12 year olds. Yet, the inspiration of reaching toward a common good no longer need to be edited out for the sake of questionable inclusivity. I need not worry whether foregrounding Steinbeck’s meditations on the supplanting of families with tractors might read as too potentially unfair to the corporate-minded among us. I no longer need to lament and chafe at how philosophical musing upon truths are looked at askance as a political agenda, rather than an opportunity to consider literature as a profound airing of human woes and yearnings after hope.
So, I recently selected a Halloween-themed retooling of the classic stone soup story to read to my 1st grade classes, entitled “Bone Soup.” A character named Finnigan the Eater was coming to town in need of sustenance and welcome, only to be emphatically rejected until such time as he utilized his wits and a “magic bone” to grow the sustaining brew of stew and company he sought. There was nothing to bar or obscure the clear lessons of prejudice and greed giving way to sharing, and how the lifting up of the entire group is achieved through the contribution of talents and resources by all individual members. Again, not stated in such terms. I just read aloud with invested enthusiasm and theatrical voices, and the children were rivited and absolutely comprehending. No tortured wrangling over relativism or objectivity. Just a palpable resonance with and simple statements of the resolution: sharing is good.
Children have such hearts as are able to sense what is good, or not. It is when we are grown, it seems, that it becomes a question whether we let there be goodness in our hearts, or not. And so goes the goodness of the world: decidedly in existence, yet diminished when disallowed.