Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Why is the Wolf Always the Bad Guy?

On Wednesday our director Dr. Joseph Thomas was invited to speak with the third grade classroom at High Tech Elementary in San Diego about representations of wolves in literature. Their teacher Kelsey Van Hook had already laid some ground work for Dr. Thomas, the students were eager and prepared for what he had to say. Their classroom was a testament to their creativity and knowledge about wolves. Poster boards, pages full of questions from students, and student artwork featuring wolves were hung high for all to see.

It is always interesting to observe young people actively learning and engaged with new concepts, one never knows what they will infer from the information presented. This group of eight and nine year old kids were especially happy to not only hear Dr. Thomas read them Lon Po Po, translated and illustrated by Ed Young, but to listen and comprehend the analysis he provided. As curious as I was to see how well they would understand the complexity Dr. Thomas brought to Lon Po Po and the use of the wolf in folktales and literature, I was equally impressed by their ability to internalize and decipher what was presented to them.

All of the students wrote Dr. Thomas questions.
Dr. Thomas provided them with an opportunity to understand the wolf as more than the signpost for evilness within a narrative. This concept eludes adults and children alike, we are trained to spot the wolf and know immediately there is danger on the horizon. It is not that these representations aren't accurate, or that wolves are not dangerous, but that most of the time they have nothing to do with the wolf in the wild, and much more to do with our own fears and anxieties about humanity and all those animalistic tendencies that reside within human nature. The wolf then becomes less scary as an animal and provides an opportunity to identify what lies behind images of the wolf in literature and get to the root of what is truly troubling about a given narrative or character.