This week is an important public speaking week for me. I presented my Philosophy paper on Thomas Aquinas to my classmates this morning, and on Friday I’ve got my turn at chapel. This afternoon, Mr. Richard Tomlin, a public speaking instructor, will be coming to the seminary in order to help the first and third years better develop their public speaking skills. He’ll be doing the second and fourth years another time. For this workshop, each student was asked to compose a three to four minute speech, the topic of which had to be a children’s book that we read when we were young, and whether or not, as adults, we think it would be a good book for our kids to read. We also had to include a bunch of lines from the book itself. I thought I’d share my conclusions here with you:
When I was a kid, I remember reading The Playful Little Dog, although I can’t remember if I really liked it or not. At first read it seems like a good children’s story. The Biggers have a little dog named Archie, but the family has to move because pets are no longer allowed in their apartment building. They move into a house in the country, but shortly after they move in a neighbour informs them of the big, vicious dog that lives across the road. Mr. Bigger, fearing that the big dog will eat Archie, builds a fence around the yard to protect him. However, when the two dogs eventually meet, Archie “bounced forward and sailed right over the top of the new fence! Julie screamed and Mrs. Biggers ran out of the house. Around and around the house Archie raced, with the big dog after him. Finally Archie couldn’t run another step, and threw himself down on the ground. There was a dreadful moment when the whole Biggers family expected to see the big dog gobble Archie up. But the big dog dropped down right beside him, and the two dogs lay there in the sun, panting and grinning at each other. They had simply been having a good romp!”
Isn’t that nice. What is perceived to be evil is not actually evil, but good. The lesson here is fine; sometimes people can plant little nuggets of fear in our hearts and we have to judge carefully instead of acting blindly. That’s good advice. But there needs to be much more.
The goal of telling our children stories is not to give them simple moral platitudes. The goal is much bigger than that. The goal is to whet their appetites for Christ. G.K. Chesterton wrote that when we tell stories to our children, we don’t have to imagine evil. “The baby,” he writes, “has already known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.” Kids, then, are shown in stories a pattern of true evil being defeated by true good, and this helps create in them an excitement for the ultimate triumph of evil that took place on the cross.
It further provides a template for the child’s own life. As Christian parents, the goal of discipline and the goal of instruction is to cultivate in our kids a self-sacrificial love for all that is good, true, and beautiful in the world, and at the same time to foster an uncompromising hatred of the many works of hell that we find around us. Our Catechism confesses that we are kings who fight with free and good consciences against sin and the devil in this life, and that kingship begins in the hearts of our children when we tell them the right stories.