Last updated: February 20. 2013 1:17AM - 375 Views

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Saving kids with tobacco-free Santa.

Last year a Canadian publisher took the pipe and smoke out of Clement Clarke Moore's classic poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, thus affording ample ammo to those who decry political correctness, and fuel for comics. Stephen Colbert did a whole segment called Blitzkrieg in Grinchitude.

Frankly I don't care if Santa smokes or not. Smoke encircling his head like a wreath was never the most captivating line as a kid. Who cares as long as he stuffs those stockings? And how does touching his nose get him up the chimney?

But last month Anita Voelker wrote an opinion piece for Edweek.org arguing against confiscating Santa's pipe (Yes, I'm trying to catchup on my reading). I'm never sure if you can access it without a membership, but here's the link.

Voelker recounts the time one of her student teachers read a story that included a man smoking a cigarette while selling his children. The fourth-graders were horrified - not at the selling, but at the cigarette, a word apparently banned from tehir school. Voelker writes:

They insisted that she replace cigarette with chicken. ... 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 then argues for the obvious solution. Rather than ripping cigarettes out of every book a kid might read, use the appearance of tobacco to teach the kids a little Critical literacy. It's a stance that enables readers to consider text and images, not simply at face value, but through historical, cultural, and political lenses.

In other words, rather than trying to pretend Moore didn't write about pipe smoking, point out that he wrote in 1823,more than a century before anyone had a clue tobacco was in any way bad.

It's true Cartoon Characters should never smoke, much less shill for cigarettes a la Fred Flintsone, though SFGate had an interesting look at the issue.

And the radical curbing of cigarette ads in my lifetime was a good thing (except for a failed fling with pipes and the increasingly rare cigar, I've always been a non-smoker).

But robbing classic works and older pop culture of cigarettes, cigars and pipes is not only dumb, it's dumbing down our kids. It's robbing them of cultural context and chance to learn what that is and why it's important.

It also creates a lie they will eventually discover. Kids fed the Canadian sanitized version of Santa surely will come across the unabridged poem later in life. And what a lesson in trust between adult and child that will give them to pass on to their kids ...

As a rule, kids are better served not by deleting text, but by adding context.


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