I confess that I generally don't pay too much attention to children's stories these days. My own children have children of their own, and most of them live far enough away that occasions for me to read to the grandkids don't come very often. However, a couple of years ago I found myself watching the "Finding Nemo" movie with one of my granddaughters. I'm not sure Nemo has achieved classic status as yet, but he has been around long enough to show up on cereal boxes, on the freebie-rerun TV channels and sometimes in the discount bins of stores.
Since I frequently comment about various aspects of education, it struck me that the Nemo story is one of those bits of kiddie literature that has as much to say to adults as it does to children. Most of the classic stories share that same trait. (We should all read "The Emperor's New Clothes" once a year.) Somewhere along the way to a happy ending there is a message for children of all ages. Most of the classic tales don't deal specifically with schools, other than that some of them are assigned to be read now and then.
Several news stories have appeared in recent months to remind me that the story of Nemo does fit into the scheme of educational decision making. Home-schooling pops up as a topic of interest. Two or three towns have had emotional discussions about whether a school should be closed, or become independent or be combined with another district and educate their children elsewhere to enhance their opportunities to learn.
These discussions normally start out calmly enough, then some panic buttons are pushed and rationality disappears into a cloud of emotional hissy fits. The discussions are surprisingly similar, no matter what the specifics of the situation in question may be. They all enter on the premise that children are better off at home, or as close to home as possible, than they are in some other place which will expose them to contact with a wider group of peers.
Too often parents, and others, don't seem to recognize the strengths that children possess. They are, on average, bright, curious, adaptable and resilient. They do, however, fit the shape of their container. If not encouraged to master information and think independently, their brightness dims to boredom. If not challenged their curiosity recedes to conformity. If they are too comfortable all the time their adaptability atrophies.
This is where the lesson of Nemo is demonstrated. He is a bright, friendly little guy with a doting and protective parent. They are a close and loving family. Nemo is curious, and wants to go to school with his friends. He thinks it will be fun, and is confident that he can handle it. He is also secure in the knowledge that his family will be there for him at the end of the day. Dad doesn't agree, and tries to keep Nemo safe at home. Nemo at some point gives into his curiosity and breaks away to find out for himself.
What happens next is the moral of the story. Nemo, on his own, is not really ready to face life by himself. He needs his family for support as much as he needs the chance to learn from others. After a series of misadventures he is reunited with Dad. Meanwhile, Dad has seen the fallacy of his own logic. He realizes that keeping Nemo too close to home has not been a good thing. He relents and encourages Nemo to go to a bigger school so he can learn how to swim in the unfamiliar waters of the wider ocean.
Weiland Ross is a Banner columnist.