SHOULD WE BURN BABAR? Essays on Children's Literature and the Power of Stories by Herbert Kohl

SHOULD WE BURN BABAR? Essays on Children's Literature and the Power of Stories

Email this review


The self-styled radical educator (""I Won't Learn from You,"" 1994, etc.) collects meandering, utterly predictable essays on the importance of narrative in the education of children. The title essay is hardly the incendiary piece it purports to be. Rather, Kohl rehearses the standard worries about kiddie culture: It's too violent, racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. The Babar books in particular suffer from their Eurocentric power relations and their celebration of assimilation; Kohl's analysis, by way of Frantz Fanon, links Babar to the triumph of colonialism. Among the other diversions popular with children that come under attack along the way is the Barbie doll, derided as ""part of the complex that can lead to bulimia and anorexia."" But Kohl lacks the courage of his convictions and soft-pedals his radicalism with caveats, usually in someone else's voice (""Sometimes an elephant in a green suit is just an elephant in a green suit""). After an essay in which he rewrites the standard textbook version of Rosa Parks's story, which focuses on the courageous individual, so that it reflects instead ""community-based social struggle,"" Kohl reveals his true agenda in ""A Plea for Radical Children's Literature,"" which includes a series of prescriptions reminiscent of old social-realist proletarianism and Soviet-style utopianism. He suggests what this sort of literature would look like by drawing attention to some neglected books by Geoffrey Trease, Virginia Hamilton, and Vera Williams--all of which allegedly embody ""working-class pride"" and ""democratic socialist ideals."" Two essays on American progressive educators turn attention to forgotten figures on the Left, from New York educator Angelo Patri to radical textbook author Harold Rugg, the bane of fundamentalists and capitalists. Kohl's emphasis on the ""nurturing tradition"" reflects his love of the empty bromide and his annoying rectitude. The essence of PC educational ideals.

Pub Date: July 15th, 1995
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: New Press