Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mother Goose


We can all recall the story of Little Bo-Peep or Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son, which were part of our youth. These go hand-in-hand with the mystical magic of Santa Claus and the Easter Rabbit. They were the first stories told to capture our imaginations, and they were also the stories that began to cultivate our philosophy in its earliest form.

On this date in 1921, the people of North Dakota were alarmed, for the National Educational Association was attempting to eliminate Mother Goose. According to Katherine Devereux Blake of the NEA, Mother Goose rhymes and jingles teach no morals and have little literary value and thus should not be part of a child's upbringing.

But Mother Goose had long been the start of a child's literary journey, and in North Dakota, the Department of Public Instruction did not agree with the NEA. The Course of Study for 1921 listed "Little Bo-Peep" among its recommended reading for the first grade along with "Jack and Jill" and "Little Miss Muffet." Other Mother Goose lyrics were recommended for singing in the classroom.

To say that Mother Goose stories had no moral values was misjudging them considerably. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son stole the pig and away he run, but for this theft Tom went to jail. Little Bo-Beep teaches children that problems often will often resolve themselves as the sheep did find a way home. Now there are some Mother Goose stories with limited moral or literary value such as "Barber, Barber shave a pig! How many hairs to make a wig? Four and twenty, that's enough. Give the Barber a pinch of snuff!" A wig made of 24 pig hairs hardly sound reasonable or desirable and the reference to a pinch of snuff would raise the hackles on today's anti-tobacco league.

Mother Goose stories contain short sentences and rhyming schemes that were easy for children to learn. Each brief tale was a complete story and these were already deeply entrenched in the American culture. One critic stated that to kill Mother Goose was like destroying the music of the wind or the glamour of the Milky Way. Who knows? Twinkle, Twinkle little star may have inspired a future astronaut or an astronomer.

The National Education Association was wrong in attempting to eliminate Mother Goose. To say there could be no Mother Goose would be telling a little girl there is no Santa Claus... but, that's a different story.

By Jim Davis

Source: The Bismarck Tribune- April 27, 1921