… the stump of a chick he held tight in his teeth …’

In a new version of Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 Christmas poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” Santa has no pipe in his teeth or encircling wreath of smoke. Canadian independent publisher Pamela McColl disapproves of smoking.

Sanitizing children’s literature is a bad idea, writes Anita N. Voelker, an associate professor of education, in an Ed Week commentary.

. . . one of my student-teachers read The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, to her 4th graders. As she shared the scene in which a father, cigarette in his clamped mouth, sells his daughter, she looked up to find 24 pairs of horrified eyes upon her. She paused, recognizing this was troubling. Wisely, she created time for conversation.

She assumed that the children were disturbed by the selling of a child. But, in whispered unison, the children warned their young student-teacher that the word “cigarette” is forbidden at their school. They insisted that she replace “cigarette” with “chicken.” Strikingly, a man with a chicken in his mouth made a strange substitution, but the children were surprisingly satisfied and seemingly unfazed that a child was being sold by her father … as long as he was not smoking!

Voelker asks: Why not teach children that people in the past didn’t realize the dangers of smoking?

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  1. Heh. I can absolutely see a bunch of 4th-graders who have been rigorously educated about the dangers of smoking reacting like that–while child-selling is just part of the story. But this is an opportunity to teach them about how smoking was once much more common and normal than it is now, and people were not as worried about the dangers. They knew about the dangers, though–cigarettes were nicknamed coffin nails for a reason.

  2. Anyway, I feel rather strongly about the importance of not sanitizing the past for children. If we teach them that cigarettes are awful, and don’t give them any historical context, then they’ll think that people in the past were awful.

    And if they think that about smoking, they’ll think it even more when they get to Huckleberry Finn. If we offer a bowdlerized version of that, then we’re pretending that people in the past were happy and fine and there’s nothing to talk about, the end! A great way to shut down discussion and foster misunderstanding of the past and present.

  3. cranberry says:

    Parents are free to buy the editions they prefer.

    Bowlderizing classics is ridiculous. I have not come across any instances which have improved upon the originals. Sanctimony isn’t an artistic impulse.

    If you want to improve your children’s morals and behavior, hand them Der Struwwelpeter. None of these half-measures!

    I also quite like Hilaire Belloc.

  4. facebook_rhymes.right says:

    Reminds me of the gasps and looks of horror I got from a much younger colleague and a group of students when I helped open a case of fundraising materials for them using this deadly weapon — http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00004YVB2/sr=1-2/qid=1357407133/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&qid=1357407133&seller=&sr=1-2

    • Oh, the horror! The one on my keychain is the black version. When I was in school in the 50s-60s, almost every kid carried a pocket knife; the lucky ones had the bigger variety, with lots of cool tools. We were free to use them, too. Whittling was a common recess activity. Of course, we little hooligans played Red Rover, tag, kickball, cowboys and Indians, jousting knights (homemade spears and swords) and soldiers in many wars (we even had Crusaders), too.

      • Yeah — I remember a circle of Cub Scouts at recess, whittling our Pinewood Derby cars. Today we would all be in the alternative school, labeled as potential terrorists.

  5. This is what happens when a society abandons religion, in our case Christianity, and all its taboos. Something’s got to fill the vacuum, and Big Tobacco is one of the replacements for the ten commandments. The new unpardonable sin is “racism.” Some people are so deathly afraid of being called a “racist,” they vote for Obama. Twice!