Monday, 27 October 2008

Has Dawkins been saying Harry Potter is bad for kids?

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A quick look at some headlines from the weekend would lead you to believe so, with the Daily Mail proclaiming that "Atheist Richard Dawkins warns Harry Potter could have 'negative effect on children'." But that's not really what he said. Rather, he was talking to More4 News about the issues he's looking to cover in his next book, which will be aimed at children.

He says he thinks stories about witches and the like are "anti-scientific", which in the strictest sense I guess they are as they certainly aren't "scientific", and that he has often wondered whether they have a "negative effect" on children. He hasn't said he thinks they have a negative effect, just that he would like to look into it:
"The book I write next year will be a children's book on how to think about the world, science thinking contrasted with mythical thinking. I haven't read Harry Potter, I have read Pullman who is the other leading children's author that one might mention and I love his books. I don't know what to think about magic and fairy tales."

"I think it is anti-scientific – whether that has a pernicious effect, I don't know. I think looking back to my own childhood, the fact that so many of the stories I read allowed the possibility of frogs turning into princes, whether that has a sort of insidious affect on rationality, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's something for research."

See, he's hardly denouncing JK Rowling and all her works. He's merely saying he's interesting in something and might cover it in his next book. You could maybe say he's reading a bit too much into it, and that we shouldn't spoil the magic for children by insisting on rationalism at all times, but to say he's been suggesting myths and fairytales should be placed on the top shelf out of the reach of kids would be misleading to say the least.

This is the same man who made a guest appearance in Doctor Who, after all.


YossarianHughes said...

Richard Dawkins is clearly ignorant concerning the usefulness of children’s literature. A study of its effect has already been exhaustively documented in The Uses Of Enchantment, by respected child psychiatrist Bruno Bettleheim.

Doctor Bettleheim found that “magic and fairytales” play an important part in the healthy development of children by helping them to face early life problems in a non-confrontational way.

I hope the Dawkins reads it before embarking on his “research”. I’ll gladly donate my own copy to prevent him foisting on the world his own (no doubt fair and open-minded) layman’s study.