Empowerment – the importance of having a voice

In a previous series of posts I wrote about science inaccuracies in a picture book and questioned with whom lay the responsibility for providing young children with correct information.

While this post builds upon those posts, it also takes a divergent path: the need for children to have a voice; to be empowered to ask questions, to state their needs and report wrongdoings.

On a highly respected educational website Scholastic, with the by-line “Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life.”, in an article about Eric Carle author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, children are told that

“Eric already knows that a caterpillar emerges from a chrysalis, not a cocoon! So don’t bother writing to tell him.”

This seemingly innocuous statement may be easily overlooked but packs a powerful message.

What does it tell children?

The author has been told many times, already knows and isn’t going to do anything about it.

The author is tired of being told he is wrong and doesn’t want to hear it any more.

The author is “right” and not to be questioned. (The book, with its misinformation, is highly acclaimed by millions around the world. However if, in answering a question on a test, children were to write that a butterfly comes out of a cocoon, they would be marked wrong. Explain that to them.)

For me the most insidious part of this message is

He already knows, “so don’t bother writing to tell him”!!!!!!!!

You can’t change it.

You know it’s wrong, but you can’t change it, so don’t bother trying.

Although many societies are now moving to eradicate it, child abuse is still far too common worldwide. Not only must the attitudes of societies change, but children must be empowered, they must be encouraged to speak up and they must be listened to: their voices must be heard.

In a recent child abuse case that occurred at a Queensland primary school, the student protection officer reportedly said that she couldn’t understand why the children who had been sexually abused did not come forward.

couldn't believe 1

The accused had continued in his role as child protection contact for a year after the first complaint was made. The student protection officer found it hard to believe that her colleague was a paedophile;

couldn't believe 2

and still she says she doesn’t understand why the children didn’t come forward!

Click here to read the complete article.

It seems to me the children did come forward if the first (indicates there were more) complaint was made more than a year before anything was done about it.

The children tried to say, but were not believed. The predator was believed and protected while the plight of the innocent victims was ignored. The report states that parents who complained about the abuse of their children were ostracised by the school community and made out to be the “bad guys”.

Is it any wonder that, if not listened to and not believed, and if more is done to protect the offenders than the abused, the children become increasingly reluctant to tell?

After the first children had come forward and not been listened to or believed, may not they have said to others, “There’s no point in saying. They already know. They won’t do anything about it?”

Or what about the parents who were ostracised and made out to be the bad ones?

Doesn’t it make the message very clear – you are powerless. Your voice won’t be heard. Your opinion doesn’t matter.

Carry this message over into countless other situations and you have a population who is afraid to speak up, fearing the disdain of reproach, the embarrassment of being unvalued and the helplessness of one’s message being unheard.

How many times have you felt you must remain silent for fear of ridicule, rejection, or worse?

How many opportunities for creating a positive change have been missed because the task seemed insurmountable or the personal repercussions too unpleasant?

When have you stepped up and made that change happen because you were not afraid to speak up or speak out when faced with an issue you felt strongly about?

What changes can we make to empower children (and adults) everywhere?

By the way, in that article on the Scholastic website, it is reported that Eric Carle believes that “the most important part of developing a book . . .is working with editors to revise it.”

Would it make any difference to the magic of The Very Hungry Caterpillar if, after all these years, Eric Carle rewrote a corrected version with a butterfly emerging triumphantly from a chrysalis?

What would that act tell all the countless children who have written to tell Eric about his mistake, and the many others who wanted to but were told there was no point?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Please share your thoughts.

Related posts:

Searching for meaning in a picture book — Part A

Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B

Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C

Finding power in a picture book – the main event

35 thoughts on “Empowerment – the importance of having a voice

        1. Norah Post author

          Thank you, Marigold. It’s wonderful to make the connection. I am happy to help you in any way I can. Just ask. I’m still looking forward to hearing all about your prac. You are high school aren’t you?

          Liked by 1 person

          Reply
  1. Marigold

    You make such amazingly good points in this post! I can’t believe that Scholastic would have something like that on their website – that’s horrible to tell a child ‘don’t bother telling me that’! Does the author not like fan mail? Does Scholastic want to turn primary school children into cynical defeatists? 😡 grrrr!
    Then you go on to point out how this attitude can seriously harm children and the community. Seriously well-written, thought-provoking stuff Norah! This sort of article should be in the Weekend Australian.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. Sacha Black

    I just wonder what possessed him to put the wrong word in in the first place – how did that get past the line edit? Seriously? What purpose could he possibly have for putting wrong information out? The problem is the hungry caterpillar is an institution now you can’t change it. It would be like changing Harry Potter – ok maybe not quite that extreme but you see my point. I strongly believe Eric should not have put wrong information in a book that claims to be educational and particularly for a young age group who are learning to differentiate between fact and fiction. If it was entirely fictional I could understand but it isn’t and that’s the most bizarre thing. Do you think he did it purposefully? Did you ever write to him and ask?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Sacha. The differences in opinion that have been expressed in relation to this issue are interesting. Some, like you and me, think the error should not have occurred and wonder how it got past the editor’s table. Others think it is quite okay for the error to be there as it is such a good book and Eric Carle is such an established and respected author.
      I think that unless the editor was a scientist, specifically an entomologist or, perhaps even more specifically, a lepidopterist, the error would be easily missed, especially when the misunderstanding is so widespread. And, except for a few of us, I’m getting the distinct impression that ‘who cares anyway?’!
      I’m not sure that Carle claimed the book to be educational – just a fun book to read and share. It’s misuse as a resource for scientific information has come from other quarters. I guess Carle could say that he is not to blame for it’s misuse.
      I didn’t ever write to tell him. Maybe I should have, and encouraged my classes to do so as well. Unfortunately I let myself be guided by the report that advised there was no use in telling him, he already knew (and didn’t care, was my interpretation).
      Thanks for joining in the conversation. It is certainly an interesting one. Most people “love” The V. H. Caterpillar, as do I, and most are willing to forgive this error, much as we do the misbehaviour of our children or loved ones. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Sacha Black

        I don’t accept that – that it can be easily missed. In my eyes, and it is a personal opinion. But that is absolutely not good enough. I thought – perhaps naively – that part of the editing process should be a fact checking exercise. ESPECIALLY for children’s stories. Children learn from them for goodness sake. It makes me want to take a permanent marker to my son’s hungry caterpillar and change it – in fact I think I will have to, and I cannot stand defacing books. This is a real crisis of conscience for me.

        I mean, some children books are clearly fantasy but in my eyes, the hungry caterpillar although a fictional story is masquerading as an educational story. therefore the facts should.. no MUST be right. it’s just not good enough. and publishers should have enough foresight to know what market their books are going to hit.

        i think its outrageous that he doesnt care.

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
        1. Norah Post author

          I think your opinion comes closest to mine. However the previous comment by Marylin is the complete opposite! Interesting.
          Please don’t deface the book, but definitely discuss it with your little one and use it as an opportunity to teach him more about butterflies and moths, and especially for the need to question, question, question; to realise that just because something is in print doesn’t make it true.
          I think that Carle doesn’t care is the bit that gets to me most too. It shows such arrogance and disdain for his readers. Hasn’t had a harmful effect upon the number of readers, fan or income though.

          Like

          Reply
  3. Steven

    Another interesting read Norah. I agree that “So don’t bother writing…” could probably have been written more constructively. It is very casual and verbally written, making me wonder whether the author had heard these words during an interview, but wasn’t sure how to re-express them in writting. I would not have realised the implications of the statement had you not pointed it out and expanded upon.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Steven. That is an interesting point you make about the words and how they may have been reported.
      It is definitely difficult to always say (or write) exactly what we mean.
      I guess I focused on the statement for the message I thought was implied. If I didn’t feel strongly about the issue I could just as easily have read over it.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

      Like

      Reply
  4. Norah Post author

    Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:

    I recently revisited a series of posts about the value of using Eric Carle’s picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar in an early childhood setting; home or classroom.

    In this post I share a follow-up to that series which addressed the issue of empowering children by giving them a voice. At the time the post attracted quite a few thought-provoking comments which are worth reading if you haven’t already done so.

    In one of those comments it was suggested that perhaps a new edition with a correction made in response to children’s comments could be considered. It is not unlike the suggestion by Steven in the previous post that correct information be provided at the end of the book. It was felt that the “correction” would be seen by children as a response to their requests and help them see the value in voicing their opinions.

    But this post goes beyond a debate about the correctness of “cocoon” or “chrysalis”. It states the case for empowering children by giving them a voice.

    I appreciate your readership, and your comments. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post, including past and current comments.

    Like

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Thank You, But Joining Award Free Blogs | Being Truly Present

  6. perfectprosesservices

    Do you know I had never thought about the inaccuracy in TVHC and I read it to my baby every few days. It’s one of her favourites. I am now quite annoyed that the author hasn’t changed it, but on the other hand, we see lots of pictures in children’s books of green horses, yellow elephants, pink zebras, etc, so then do we have to take it further and tell those authors, too, that they have to portray real life…a dilemma for sure. Your post made me think, though!

    Like

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Hi there,
      Welcome to my blog and thank you for your comment. I’m pleased the article made you think and I like the way you have applied the question to other situations. I certainly would not have authors and illustrators stop using their imaginations to make e.g. blue horses, yellow elephants and pink zebras. I do feel this is slightly different from the cocoon/chrysalis situation though and children will soon realise or be informed that these don’t really exist. This doesn’t seem to happen with the cocoon / chrysalis example and the misinformation seems to persist, well into adulthood for a lot of people, including teachers. Whether this matters or not, I guess, is the question I have raised and I really appreciate that you, and so many others, have stopped by to share your thoughts. It is only through open discussion that we can come to a full understanding of what we really think. Thank you for sharing my learning journey.
      PS TVHC is a wonderful book to read to babies and young children. Your little one is so lucky to have a mum who reads to her every day. It is such an important part of a baby/child’s development. Your baby is off to a great start!

      Like

      Reply
  7. Samantha

    What a provoking and insightful piece! This is a complex topic that reaches throughout our culture and you have handled it deftly. This has been something I’ve become more aware of within the context of my parenting and had yet to finish pondering. How many ways do we hush, brush off or otherwise discount the voice of our youth? The ramifications of being told repeatedly in a myriad of ways that nothing they say matters is profound. I am so glad I came across your blog!

    Like

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you so much for stopping by, Samantha, and joining in the conversation. I appreciate your support, and like you, am yet to finish my pondering. I hope I am never finished; it is always interesting to hear the thoughts of others and to have my thinking challenged and stretched. The comments that this post has sparked proves how important this issue is. That fact doesn’t surprise me. What does surprise is that I had intended this article to be an ‘aside’, if you like, from the previous one about critical thinking. It is interesting that, when we write things, we just don’t know for sure which ideas will resonate most strongly with readers. I guess that is important in interactions with children too. We need to ensure that the messages we send are positive, affirming and empowering and don’t tell them that nothing they say matters. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Like

      Reply
  8. Charli Mills

    First, I just want to comment on what an articulate advocate you are for education, children and teachers. Next, it may seem that there’s a wide gap between two divergent situations (reporting that an author is incorrect and reporting sexual abuse). Yet, you’ve hit the nail on the head–both require a child to be empowered to have a voice. Every little event that sends a child the message, “Oh, hush,” will make it all the more difficult when a more serious situation occurs. I think that authors, especially of popular books, can make second editions where not only the error is corrected but its discovery honored (imagine how smart that would make the kids feel)! And as for sexual abuse, more people want to deny it than believe it. I know. While no one ever rescued me as a child or teen, I did have teachers and mentors who cultivated my voice through encouraging me to read and to write stories. Voice is life.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you so much, Charli, for your support and encouragement, and for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you about the importance of voice. As you say, “Voice is life”. Without the empowerment that comes from having a voice, a confidence in self, life can lack energy and fulfillment. I’m sorry that there was no one there to rescue the child you but hope that, as many more of these issues and situations are being exposed, fewer children will suffer from feelings of helpless abandonment and abuse. Your comment indicates how important it is for teachers and other mentors to ensure that children are empowered by having their voices cultivated.

      Like

      Reply
  9. Diane

    I’m with you Norah. The messages we send children must change so that they believe (and experience) their voices being heard. Thank you for the powerful post.

    Like

    Reply
  10. Gina Stoneheart

    What a fantastic article you have shared with us, Norah. This hits my heart in more ways than you can imagine. As an author, I feel encouraging our children to find their voices and never be afraid to establish their opinions and creativity is very important… especially during my presentations and author visits. And as adults, we should always value what our children have to say. They need to feel courageous and to never second guess something that is bothering them or lingering on their little minds. Our society is changing and human interaction and communication is becoming lost with the times. We need to sit down more, put away the iphones and ipads, and speak with our kids. Ask them about their days and what is going on in school… Inquire about their friends and what they plan on doing throughout the day. It’s important to encourage speaking up and articulating their feelings or anything which may be bothering them. Not only in the face of child abuse, but bullying as well.
    Thanks for writing such a well-needed thought and needed post!

    Like

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Gina,
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my post. I’m pleased it has spoken to a need that you also see. I’m impressed that you are encouraging children to find their voice through your presentations and author visits. It is such an important thing to do. Of course, you are right also about bullying; and there are many other issues also, such as breaking down stereotypes and their expectations. I wonder how you, as an author, feel about the responsibility for ensuring information in a picture book is correct, and with whom the responsibility lies?

      Like

      Reply
      1. Gina Stoneheart

        This is a tough one, Norah. As an author, I encourage our children to use their imaginations which allow their thoughts to go above and beyond what may or may not happen in the real world. But as far as information being correct in a picture book, I think it depends on how fictional or nonfictional the story may be. In “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” case, the detail would seem minor but it is still an important one. The responsibility lies with the author, of course. but in Eric Carle’s case, I assume this rule excuses him since he is a more well-known figure within the children’s book industry. Sadly, since his picture book is deemed astounding by so many people around the world, I think there is little room for change in his case. But I definitely would hope he is responsible and wise enough to admit to any mistakes he may have made while conveying his children’s story.

        Like

        Reply
        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for popping back with these further thoughts, Gina. You have made some interesting statements. I agree entirely with you about the use of imagination to dream up things that may never be in the real world. However the “realities” should still be consistent and ring true in the fictional realm or the story loses credibility. Additionally, imagination is important for dreaming up new ways of doing things and innovations that may exist, one day, in the real world. Indeed most things made by humans began as no more than an idea in someone’s imagination! Deciding on the importance of the correctness of information in a picture book is difficult and, as you say, depends upon how fictional or nonfictional the story may be. Of course “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” is entirely fictional, however this minor inconsistency means that it doesn’t ring true in the real world, when so many people falsely assume, as a result of reading the book, that the cocoon/butterfly relationship is correct. I also find it interesting that you think Eric Carle’s mistake may be excused because of his standing in the book industry. I am toying with that idea at the moment and wondering how far it application may extend, though I am not quite ready to delve too deeply into it at the moment.
          In your previous comment you mentioned bullying. I noticed on your blog that you are an anti-bullying advocate. Congratulations on the great work you are doing over there.
          Please stop by again and challenge my thinking with your interesting responses.

          Like

          Reply
  11. Annecdotist

    Brilliant! What kind of society are we building when we teach children to collude with misinformation? Sometimes the big changes are made by fighting for the small things and this is such a great reminder of why they matter. The kids who go through your classes are so lucky to have you on their side.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Anne,
      Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate your support. I agree that fighting for the small things can make the big changes happen. Bec has commented similarly – start with a tree rather than the whole woods. I think the importance of this process, and the cumulative effect of change, one building upon another, becomes very apparent in the TED talk “The Long Reach of Reason” by Steven Pinker and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. It is worth a view, or two.http://goo.gl/KF8o6L

      Like

      Reply
      1. Annecdotist

        Thanks for flagging up this talk. I liked how they flagged up at the end that there are still so many areas where we ignore reason.
        Great to see you getting quite a bit of feedback on this post – some really thoughtful comments

        Like

        Reply
  12. Bec

    Hi Nor, thanks for the thoughts, and for confronting such a troubling issue. At the surface, it can seem like a long bow to draw but you are raising a very important point about the continual and systemic dis-empowerment of children. At what point do we blame a person (as in the article you cite), a system (the procedures which were inadequate), a culture (that which accepts and encourages the undermining of children’s self-determination and assertiveness), a society (the policies, networks, and practices which failed)? It’s times like this that motifs can be so powerful – as you have shown – when the oppressive forces on children are so pervasive sometimes we need to focus on a ‘tree’ to see the ‘woods’.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Bec,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and support. I wonder if,rather than trying to decide where the ‘blame’ lies (though I guess I certainly started it by pointing a few fingers) it may be more productive to, as you say, start with a single tree. If we recognise, identify, and act upon the individual instances we observe, by changing our own behaviour that could contribute by action or omission, and discussing or/and exposing that of others, then I guess that is a starting point. Encouraging ourselves and others to think about the issues and to decide how important a change may be is the first step.
      I love this quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
      Recently I watched a fabulous TED talk about reason. I think you may enjoy it. http://goo.gl/KF8o6L

      Like

      Reply

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s