Sunday, October 20, 2013

Connections to Christensen's "Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us"

I was left a little torn after reading Linda Christensen's "Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us."  It's not that I've never thought about the fact that these underlying themes or messages are present in the things children are exposed to.  I've noticed them myself, and have read other articles and taken part in discussions about them.  Christensen is right, they do exist -- like in this picture that Karen included on her blog for this week.

And while I'm aware Disney isn't the only target of her criticism, it is commonly referenced in these types of discussions, and it was the first thing that came to my mind.  While the older ones are more blatant, you could pick any of them apart if you really look at them.  Christensen notes: "The newer cartoons ... are subtler and take more sophistication to see through" (p. 130).  For example, The Princess and the Frog was largely viewed as a milestone for Disney because of it's introduction of an African-American princess.  Not only that, Tiana is a strong, driven female character who isn't waiting for a man to solve all her problems.  She works hard in pursuit of her dream of owning her own business, which she proceeds to do even after she becomes a princess.  This is a big departure from the earlier Disney princesses.  But people still raised issues with the lightning bug perpetuating the "uneducated southerner" stereotype, the fact that Tiana spends a big portion of the film as a frog, and the whole thing with the question surrounding Prince Naveen's race/ethnicity.  (... And what about Tiana's mom?  Isn't she a seamstress working for a rich white family?  Am I reading too much into that now?  Once you start analyzing, you can't stop!)

At the same time though, Disney was a big part of my childhood.  I loved just about anything Disney, and honestly, I still do.  I still plan on watching the movies with my kids when I have them, because it's something I would want to share with them.  And what about the positive messages in the movies?  But Christensen's article really makes you think.

This is Christensen's goal with her students -- to make them think, and as she says, to "question [the] accepted knowledge and the secret education" (p. 127).  As a future teacher, I found that I really liked the way Christensen went about it with her students.  In reading about her method, I found myself thinking of more than one of our past class readings.

- Alfie Kohn
I liked how although Christensen makes it clear to us what her opinion is regarding the messages in children's cartoons, movies, and literature, she says that she is careful not to point everything out to her students.  Instead, she poses questions and guides her students to reflect and respond in journals and in group work, allowing them to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions.  It's not so much of a "good job!" situation here, but it still made me think of how Kohn says to "talk less, ask more" so that children see the value of their work on their own.  This also kept Christensen's students interested in further dissecting what they saw.

- Allan Johnson
Towards the beginning of the article, Christensen mentions how Paolo Friere says that "instead of wrestling with words and ideas, too often students 'walk on the words'" (p. 127).  She is talking about how she uses this unit to give her students the "tools to critique media that encourage or legitimize social inequality" (p. 127), so that they are ready to talk about further class content down the line.  This reminded me (again!) of Johnson's article, and how he says that we have to be able to talk and use the words to have meaningful dialogue on issues.

- Peggy McInstosh
I also thought of Peggy McIntosh's awareness of privilege while reading Christensen's article.  The whole exercise of getting her students to think critically about the "secret education" reminded me of how McIntosh says "to redesign social issues, we need first to recognize their colossal unseen dimensions."  But Christensen goes on to say that her lesson doesn't end with her students to be able to critique what they see, because she wants to "develop their critical consciousness ... [and] move them to action" (p. 134).  Like McIntosh says, "disapproving of the system won't be enough to change them."  Christensen encourages her students to act on their convictions, and asks them to brainstorm ways in which they could do so, which they turn into projects.

Point to Share:  Do you think you will still watch Disney movies with your kids?  Or cartoons in general?  Do you think there are some that have the potential to be more "harmful" than others?


  1. I agree with you in your statement about the Princess and the Frog. And it took our society a very long time to portray the role changes that we are constantly progressing towards. Woman no longer wait on prince charming after realizing the kind of potential they harbor.

  2. I love the image you have of the princes and what they did. So true and I wish more people saw that and were moved by it.