Barry Saunders

Do Wake students need protection from fairy tales?

Say, homes. Whatever you do, don’t let her read “Cinderella.”

And, dad, please keep her away from “Hansel & Gretel,” the fairy tale in which the hag fattens young Hansel for dinner before – SPOILER ALERT!!! – his sister kills the witch.

For heaven’s sake, don’t let her listen to B.B. King’s exquisitely cynical song “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother – And She Could Be Jivin’ Too.”

That’s my advice to the Raleigh dad raising a stink with the Wake County Public School System after discovering that his daughter’s fourth grade homework assignment included this sentence: “I’m going to kill you, Tommy,” Mom yelled to herself.


We’re not talking about shielding her from the G-rated “Cinderella,” but from the Brothers Grimm version, the one in which Cindy’s stepmother has her daughters chop off their toes to make their big feet fit into the glass slipper so one of them can marry the prince and limp happily ever after.

In Classroom Assignment Mom’s defense, Tommy had broken out a big picture window in the front room with a baseball.

Who knows? Maybe mom was hosting a bridge party that night and needed to impress the snobbish Snodgrasses who had previously rebuffed her. This party might’ve been her last chance for social acceptance and the kid ruined it. None of us know the backstory that caused mom to contemplate terminating Tommy.

I wasn’t aware of the Cinderella toe-chopping backstory until a conversation with Sheldon Cashdan, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and author of “The Witch Must Die.” In that book, he explains the never-ending appeal of fairy tales and what children can and do learn from them.

Could reading “I’m going to kill you, Tommy,” traumatize children not named Tommy? I asked.

“It probably would have been better if the teacher had explained that it was just a comment made in anger and they shouldn’t take it literally,” Cashdan said of the school assignment. “That might’ve defused” the irked parent’s ire.

I doubt it.

While noting that the assignment “has no relevance” to fairy tales, Dr. Cashdan did say “That kind of violence and even worse is part of fairy tales. A lot of parents voice objections to fairy tales because they feel they’re too violent.”

The person reading or introducing the story to children, he said, should put what’s going on in context. “As I argue in my book, violence in fairy tales isn’t such a bad thing. It helps children deal with some of the inner conflicts they’re having.”

Efforts to reach parent James Iadanza were unsuccessful, but in a television interview last week, he said “I was shocked. I mean fourth grade?... They could have a nightmare about it. You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Is Iadanza kidding us? Can anyone really be so upset over that obviously hyperbolic sentence that they’d fire off a missive to the school system, demand a meeting with the principal and quickly kvetch to a TV station?

Lisa Luten, a school system spokeswoman, told me Saturday that administrators and Iadanza had not yet met. Luten said she couldn’t speak about a specific parent or child, but stated “In situations like that, it’s paramount that parents and teachers communicate, so the parent can explain what he thinks is best for his child and the teacher can work on modifying her lesson plan.”

Parents owe it to their children to restrict exposure to harmful things – live electrical sockets, Adam Sandler movies, even potentially traumatic classroom assignments.

They also owe it to their children to respect them as real people, not just as fragile glass figures. Yes, even at nine.

Here’s what happened when I was nine: The supernaturally kind and patient Mr. Brady Speight, my Little League baseball coach, didn’t let me pitch one day, so while walking home after practice I called him – under my breath, of course – every vile name you can think of and some you can’t. Looking back from a vantage point of nearly 50 years, I still don’t know where my fourth-grade self learned such words: Certainly not at home.

Speaking of home, waiting for me when I got there that day was a birthday card from Mr. Speight.

Ugh. I still cringe with shame when juxtaposing his thoughtfulness with my childhood churlishness.

As a former English major, I’m offended not by the mom’s use of hyperbole in the story, but by the assignment writer’s use of “Mom yelled to herself.”

How the $%^&*# does one do that?