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A Question (and a Straw Man) About Lying to Children

February 3, 2014

I have a question about something that I’m not terribly familiar with. I have a question about lying to small children. But first, let me deal with the straw man this question seems to have created in the minds of some of the more excitable people in the education blogging world.

From When Lies are Lovely on Debra Kidd’s blog yesterday evening:

Some weeks ago, there was a spat on twitter about role play in which it was described as lying to children. Having just spent several weeks telling my youngest that the red light on our alarm censor was Santa’s CCTV camera, I was pulled up very much as a liar. But I justified it because for a few weeks, he went to bed when asked and brushed his scummy teeth. Ends justified the means. But is it ok to lie to children in school?

Well, if you’re skilled at using role play, your really don’t have to. Starting sentences with ‘can we agree that this represents’ or ‘we’re building a story today…’ or ‘if’ mitigates the possibility that children might be conned. There was once an awful example of a school in Blackburn where children were taken into a room while staff let off fireworks outside. The head told the children that WW3 had broken out. And unsurprisingly, the children were very upset. That’s pretty stupid in my book. But to use fiction to entice, to stimulate, to (shock, horror) engage children in learning? That’s just a good thing to do. So….

Not exactly sure of the educational benefits of the roleplaying she describes in the rest of the post, but it’s not my area, so fair enough. Whoever these people are who think all role-playing is a form of lying, they can’t be very sensible. And this is not the first blog touching on this topic. From “Make-believe is not the same as lying” on the Imagine Inquiry blog:

…lying involves an intention to deceive for unscrupulous reasons. For me, the motivation is all-important when we are talking about adults ‘lying’ to children. If adults lie to children to deceive them for unscrupulous reasons, then this is reprehensible and has no place in a classroom (or anywhere else). However, if adults create an imaginary scenario or context for or with the children, with the primary intention of developing their learning, then the motivation is principled and it should not be called lying. I prefer the term make-believe.

A serious allegation

The accusation that adults lie to children every time they tell them an untruth is one lacking nuance and sophistication. It implies teachers who use imaginary situations in their classrooms are acting in an unprincipled way, deceiving their students, without their agreement or understanding and against their best interests.

Well good on you Tim. Whoever these people are going on about lying, they are clearly wrong. I couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, and this is the earliest of our three blogs on this topic, there is something going on here beyond me quoting from blogs I happen to agree with by people who spend a lot of their online life bitching about me. Here, from Primary Ramblings, is “WHY DO PRIMARY TEACHERS “LIE” TO THEIR PUPILS?“,  the story of the origin of these terrible accusations. This section follows a description of an activity where students pretended to be taking a trip to Australia:

At no point did I say, “We’re only pretending to fly to Australia”. There was a tacit understanding that what we were doing was ‘make-believe’ and the children bought into it fully, immersing themselves in the excitement of going on holiday to a foreign country. At 3.15 many of the children came and told me that this had been one of the best days ever; that they had loved flying to Australia and that they wanted to learn more about the country. The next day they came in with photos, books, souvenirs and a thirst for knowledge about all things Australian. They were hooked and wanted to learn more.

So why, I wonder, do some teachers regard such activities as dishonest and duplicitous? Last night @oldandrewuk tweeted (about another blogpost):

“This is the 2nd time I’ve seen a blog about primary teaching based on lying to the kids. Are people okay with this?”

I couldn’t help but reply, and an interesting “debate” ensued, where @oldandrewuk tied my words in knots and tripped me up over semantics.

However hard he tried to make me look foolish and question my ideology, @oldandrewuk cannot convince me that we are “lying” to children in any sort of sinister way and that immersing children in their learning through drama or simply through setting up scenarios that encourage them to suspend their disbelief is a practice that needs “justifying”.

Good grief, what a bastard. Objecting to an activity which seems to have been both fun and informative on the basis of such a silly accusation. Who is this malevolent Tweeter? The name rings a bell…

Oh, crap it’s me.

What?

Yes, I am apparently the guilty man. I am the one who objects to role-playing on grounds of honesty. Taking a position that seems to be half-way between Plato and Sheldon Cooper I have declared war on play, role-playing and, no doubt, Santa Claus. And just in case anyone is under any doubt that it’s all my fault, here is Debra Kidd’s facetious comment from the second of our 3 blogs:

Very clever analysis Tim and you put to shame some of the sloppy thinking of those we shall not name (ironically those who choose to remain nameless and are thereby lying about their identity!)

I had intended to let this drop. I was annoyed at reading comments like this (and other in a similar vein):

How sad that we have someone like Andrew old teaching our children who obviously fundamentally fails to understand the learning and thought processes of human beings. I find it incredible that someone of his supposed erudition can have such ignorance.

However, I assumed it would all blow over. But no we are getting close to a month later and people are still writing blogs about the terrible accusations I’ve made. So I figure I might as well point out what I actually commented on, what I actually said, so that at least if this continues people have a fair idea of who’s being straight here.

Some time back, I read this blogpost about a literacy day in a primary school.

Several staff and SLT meetings into term, the idea of a whole-school writing day had been mentioned, without particular conviction, numerous times; vague ideas had been put forward and then quickly dismissed as the weeks passed. On one  miserable morning though, waiting for the very last Year Six latecomers to arrive, I noticed that the patch of unused wasteland adjacent to our field had been occupied by builders who, in a matter of days, already had the shells of new housing erected, with construction continuing apace.

Buoyed by the idea that slowly unveiled itself to me over the next few days, I asked at the end of the next staff meeting to talk about the by-now maligned topic of a writing day: what if we could secure the loan of  builders’ tools, machinery and apparel, spread them over our grounds before the start of school one day and tell the children that, unless they could prevent them from doing so, our neighbouring builders would be turning the  field into houses too?

As luck had it, an ex-parent was the proprietor of a local construction company and, after a surprsingly simple phone call, an agreement had been reached whereby he would provide us with diggers, skips, a lorry, cement mixers and less glamorous but equally authentic hard hats and high-vis vests.

So, with props acquired and a rough idea of what we wanted to achieve formualted, the (enjoyable, as it turned out) process of planning a writing day began. We decided to abandon yeaching by year goups and opted instead to group children by similar levels of attainment; we agreed on a series of progressively more challenging tasks which began with writing protest slogans and banners and stretched to writing and delivering persuasive speeches.

With planning and preparation complete, one final flourish was added: a local actor agreed to join us for the project, playing the role of the high-ranking council official who would have the final say in whether or not the proposed building would be allowed to proceed…

I found the whole thing fascinating. I reblogged it on the Echo Chamber. It all seemed exciting and genuinely educational. However, there didn’t seem to be any indication that the kids would understand that events were staged and I did wonder about that. Then, last month I read this blogpost about activities based around a teacher claiming to have lost a pencil case. Again, there seemed to be no indication that the children would consider events to be anything other than real. It struck me then how casually lying to the class was presented as a stimulus for activity, and so, on Twitter, I asked the question:

This is the 2nd time I’ve seen a blog about primary teaching based on lying to the kids. Are people okay with this?

There was nothing in either blog to suggest that the children were party to the role-playing. It was not about role-playing. And it was not intended to indicate that I had decided it was all wrong, just that I was wondering whether it was wrong. That’s all. There was a post on Mumsnet on a similar topic:

Today ds1 went abck [sic] to school and was really looking forward to it.

I went to get him at 3.15 and he was absolutely busting to tell me about the ‘thing’ that had landed in the woodland bit of the playground.

I followed him and a large crowd of grown ups and children was standing around this thing, which looked to me very much like a huge air conditioning unit half buried in the ground, with a slightly blackened tree next to it.

I have to admit I immediately thought it was a kind of set up, for fun – there was stripey tape all round it and nobody allowed to touch.

Ds told me that it had apparently ‘crashed’ last night, and was from a satellite or spaceship or similar and it even had the voltage written on it!

He loves this kind of thing so was utterly serious and really quite blown away by the idea. They had spent all day finding out about it and someone from the BBC had apparently come and interviewed a witness, with a microphone but no camera.

There is nothing on the BBC website. The newsletter just arrived and there is a large paragraph about it – ‘We hope the children enjoyed the ‘space mystery’ today, our project this term is all about space’ etc etc…

I didn’t know what to do, so stupidly, probably, I told ds it wasn’t actually from a spaceship, and he started to cry sad

I mean is this just like the Father Christmas thing we do with them, or is it actually rather cruel of them to lie about something so potentially thrilling – I have probably done the wrong thing but he would have found out later anyway no doubt and been MORE upset.

He is insisting the newsletter is wrong and is very cross and fed up.

Can anyone talk me down, I really don’t need another confrontation with the HT…I am just so sad for him.

It’s got me thinking, but I don’t deal with small children. I’ve never even had to think about things like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Not my area at all. But I can think of lies that I thought were justified, and lies that weren’t, in a school context, and I did wonder about these three scenarios. I think part of my concern is a wider issue about manipulating students and their feelings. A lot of talk about “engagement” is about making students feel the way that suits us, regardless of whether we should be trying to manipulate their feelings. So I am curious, just curious, about this issue and would like to hear from teachers of young children as to what they think.

But will people please stop writing blogs arguing with this ridiculous straw man about all role-playing being lying? It’s almost like some people just want an excuse to have a go.

Update 22/7/2014: I can’t resist adding this story from the BBC to the examples.

A head teacher has apologised after a 3ft (90cm) fake egg designed to aid learning ended up scaring pupils. The egg was part of a project which aimed to encourage group discussion at Holy Trinity Primary School, Halstead. Headmaster Jon Smith told parents there had been an “amazing discovery” and the egg had been “cordoned off”. But an apology was issued after it emerged some had been “worried by it” and one parent posted on Twitter that their children had been “in tears”.

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57 comments

  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.


  2. Reblogged this on Primary Blogging.


  3. This is the first I’ve heard about any of this. You might find this anecdote interesting:
    When my eldest daughter first started school at the age of 4, the teacher set up this treasure hunt type activity all about a teddy bear which had done missing. There were clues round the school which the children had to find in order to piece together the mystery.
    When she came home she was completely freaked out about the poor missing bear and had nightmares about what might happen to it all alone at night. We tried to reassure that it wasn’t real, but she was convinced that her teacher would never tell a lie.
    We spoke to her teacher who immediately agreed that it was obviously important to explain that the bear wasn’t real and that it was only supposed to be a bit of fun. My daughter calmed down, but was shocked that she had been lied to.
    Clearly there was no malicious intent, and the teacher was horrified that our daughter had been traumatised. But stil…


  4. Last academic year, my daughter’s KS1 and 2 mixed school decided to tell all pupils that at a hole had opened up in the school kitchen. The scenario was set out thus: A team had gone down the hole to investigate the cause, and had become trapped. The children were then given problems to solve such as, what food should the trapped people have? How could supplies be got to them etc? They were also provided with various clues as to what could have caused the hole.
    All well and good (perhaps?), except my daughter was only 6 years of age and, along with several of her classmates, became increasingly distressed and concerned at the thought of these people being trapped underground. This distress ultimately led to her having sleepless nights, as she fretted and worried about the safety of the sub-terranean individuals.
    I am far from being a pushy or awkward parent, but eventually I felt it was necessary to contact the head teacher and discuss how inappropriate I thought this particular fantasy to be. The outcome of this was that my child was informed (in the privacy of the HT’s office) that the entire holes scenario was fiction. She was asked to tell no other children about this. Therefore: lies upon lies.
    I only hope that I communicated my concerns clearly enough to ensure that the school never, ever experiments with such elaborate hoaxes again.


  5. ‘How sad that we have someone like Andrew old teaching our children who obviously fundamentally fails to understand the learning and thought processes of human beings. I find it incredible that someone of his supposed erudition can have such ignorance.’
    Dear God. Few people understand them better. It’s the Kidds and Cowleys of this world who haven’t a clue.


  6. ‘she was convinced that her teacher would never tell a lie’
    Doesn’t she know about GCSE coursework?


  7. To quote an anonymous blogging legend….”For pity’s sake”.

    One of the most self indulgent blogposts I have read.


    • Maybe, but a very positive response and some good comments, so I’ve no regrets. Also, needed to do something that wasn’t about OFSTED. It had been 10 or more OFSTED posts in a row.

      Next: A blogpost about OFSTED.


  8. Only young children I have taught are my own. I decided I’d lie to Chris and got him to learn Newton’s Laws of Motion starting age 2 – lie? well I kept special and general relativity from him at that point so lie by omission :-) Mind I did get some of those concepts into story reading with https://theingots.org/community/microcosm. Role play? I remember his space themed birthday party with the van de graaf generator and helium balloons involving some of that. I thought it was just using imagination?


  9. It seems you have been horribly misunderstood. I guess people are sensitive about being labelled as liars (or the suggestion they might be deliberately lying to children), but at least now we all fully understand your position on the use of make-believe and role-play in education. That’s good.
    Further, your question stimulated an interesting debate and highlighted some areas of drama that perhaps needed clarification. I certainly found it helpful to sort out my thinking on the subject when I wrote my blog. So, that was good too.
    However, If you don’t mind me saying, you might find people would get less upset if you stopped using such emotive terms as lying and denialist or comparing their work to utter nonsense like Brain Gym. It is just a thought.


    • Just out of interest, how could I possibly have asked this question without using the word “lying”?


      • As you read my blog you’ll know I’m not in favour of misleading children. Lying implies a malicious intent. The examples you gave from the blogs had a benign intent. I would therefore suggest ‘mislead’ would be a word that would cause less annoyance.


        • I don’t think that’s the usual distinction between the words. The difference is that “misleading” includes cases where you do not directly state something untrue, but still cause someone to think it by omission, equivocation or implication.


          • Teaching Newton’s Laws but failing to mention relativity would fall into that definition wouldn’t it? Probably most of science. Also telling someone they are a grade B when the uncertainty in the measurement is plus of minus a grade – especially if their future is being decided on that grade.


          • My point is, if you use emotive & disparaging language about people’s practice they are going to get upset. No one likes being called a liar. But if you use a word like mislead then they are less likely to be offended.


          • Nobody was called a liar. Given this post was about being misunderstood, I see little reason to suggest I should have deliberately obscured my point. People will always object to tone when they can’t answer the point of an argument. If what I am talking about is not a lie, I want an argument for that position, not a complaint that merely expressing the alternative position might have caused offence.


          • But people misunderstanding and people being upset are 2 separate issues. Nobody misunderstood because my words were too emotive, and nobody would have understood better if I’d been vague.


      • It might have been better to have used the term ‘deception’ rather than lying – it’s perhaps a slightly less accusing term. In psychology experiments it is sometimes necessary to disguise the true purpose of a study in order to avoid distorting the behaviour of the participants. Students in my classes learn about the ethical issues involved in such experiments and the requirement to a) avoid deception wherever possible (such research would likely be challenged by an ethical committee), b) where genuinely necessary ensure that participants are thoroughly debriefed afterwards – so that they are fully informed about the true purpose of the study (and have an opportunity to withdraw their data if unhappy about it).
        The same ethics should apply to teaching, in my opinion. There may be rare occasions where playful deception has a role (e.g. in generating engagement), but the potential consequences of the deception should be carefully considered beforehand (in order to avoid stress or upset), especially where the children are very young. A teacher could consult colleagues (acting a little like an ethical committee) before the deception take place – to see whether they agree it is professionally appropriate. Children should also be thoroughly debriefed afterwards, so they understand the true facts of the situation and don’t leave the classroom maintaining the false belief.


        • I would have said “deception” is actually a more negative term than “lie”. At least some lies are not meant to be believed.


  10. I once had a conversation on twitter imagining what teaching would be like if there was no manipulation (dishonesty) from teachers, e.g no allowing kids to ‘lead their own learning’ (when there are actually outcomes that must be achieved). My conclusion was that modern teaching is quite manipulative compared with classrooms of the past.


    • Wow – the whole of modern teaching and the whole past – that must have taken some doing …


      • If that was what I said it would do. It is you that used the word ‘whole’. I used the words ‘quite’ and ‘compared with’.
        My comment does not attempt to explore the degree of difference. It simply comments that I thought I could see a difference.


        • It’s just as vague as my hyperbole that was the point of the addition.


          • It was a deliberately vague comment – a generalisation. I wrote it because I would enjoy exploring whether there is any truth in my assertion. Do some teaching practices particularly rely on manipulation and, as OA asked, should we be bothered if they do?
            I think some teaching practices do rely on manipulation. I think the rise in interest in caring for a child’s self esteem encourages that. I also think that child led methods seem more reliant on manipulation because the teacher has a goal in mind so the freedom is partly illusory.
            By nature I am uncomfortable with too much manipulation but I am not sure whether I have good arguments against it.


  11. My 20 yr old son told me recently that his step sister had told him that Santa didn’t exist from the moment go and he kept up the pretence so we wouldn’t be upset. But then that’s my son – can’t think where he gets it from…


  12. I work in a “challenging school” and sometimes the best way to motivate is to tell a white lie. Their entries for the British Science Association competition? You could win an iPad. Their pass in BTEC coursework? Unless you get a merit you’re going to fail the qualification (mostly true but they could still get a level 1 pass). The lad who’s been away for 2 weeks holiday? Your coursework needs to be completed this week, yes I know you only came back yesterday.
    http://lifeasateacherblog.wordpress.com/


  13. It’s pretty common practice in science labs to tell horror stories to preempt dangerous use of equipment. I learnt quickly that plenty of fictional character detail and gore kept the class listening.
    A former colleague extended this to all tellings-off. We’d all sit in the staffroom captivated as a lecture on throwing pens became a story about Jonny who lost an eye and had a Biro tip permanently wedged in his pre-frontal cortex.
    Story-based learning is highly effective (willingham has a good piece on this). Young kids are lied to all the time and don’t tend to care unless they are made to feel stupid for believing.
    Simulations like those described in your post are massively memorable and I would hate to think they might be stopped because of a few misjudged examples.


    • What happens if the students realise you routinely lie to them? It bothers me that they trust me, if I routinely abuse that trust.


      • Not that I teach any more, but it was never a big issue. I would sometimes be quite candid about the fact that I made up stories. No pupil ever reacted with horror. Most thought it was funny and, occasionally, would remember and ask if the story I was telling was bollocks.
        Not wanting to sound like a hippy, but I think it is very human to communicate through sharing stories. If you think about it too much you might conclude that you are lying and causing issues of trust. But that’s similar to the strange logic that leads some teachers to question their authority to impose sanctions. Better to deal with real issues rather than imagined ones.


  14. In KS2 a proportion of the statutory RE curriculum is the study of religious stories. Are they lies? Should lessons come with a disclaimer? Should we tell children from the outset they are made up stories and thus upset those from deeply religious backgrounds?


    • A lie is telling something as the truth that you know not to be the truth. It is not being told something you don’t happen to believe.


      • Isn’t it your point that because a teacher has set up the deception then children believe it to be the truth, by dint of the teacher’s position of authority?

        If a child were to ask me, after I had read the story of the virgin Mary becoming pregnant by God, whether it were true I would find it extremely difficult to say ‘No, this story is a lie to explain an unplanned pregnancy.’ Thus, I would be telling them something pertaining to be the truth, even though science has proved that it is almost certainly not the truth. I would have to keep up the pretense because I am sensitive to the fact that many children in my class do believe it to be the ‘gospel’ truth because their parents/priest/vicar have told them that Jesus was the son of God. Is this any different to telling children that Santa Claus and the tooth fairy exist, when adults know that it is a lie.


        • Are you trolling?


          • A curious question to ask a regular post on your blog.


        • Maybe belief systems are exempt? It is an interesting question and also came to my mind. Maybe Jesus wasn’t a true Scotsman. He certainly isn’t there in the historical record but we won’t go down that road…


          • Hope this isn’t an attempt to promote the “Jesus Myth” thing. I have as little time for pseudo-history as pseudo-science.


          • Does religion belong on an edu blog?


          • It’s not banned, but I am concerned it might be trolling. After all, I’m not really sure what it has to do with anything here. People have been known to have false beliefs, regardless of whether they are religious or not.


          • True – though if you start having a go at Optimus Prime and Megatron I will be very upset!


          • A lot of the problem is interpretation of data. Empirical data can be collected but in complex systems where it is difficult to control all the variables interpretation still ends up in terms of probabilities rather than absolutes. From that point of view, where absolute scientific certainty ends and belief systems begin is rarely clear cut in human systems. It is generally not a binary world and so what is a lie, what is developing imagination and what is misleading all varies with context and intent. What is the motivation of the person controlling the context and is it morally justified? There is never going to be a simple law to decide that, it needs case bay case consideration. To pretend there could be such a law would be to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of science and beliefs.


          • Not sure where scientific doubt and uncertainty comes into it. None of the examples given were cases where those could not be certain they weren’t telling the truth; they knew they weren’t.

            Whether a lie is justified or not is, of course, more complex, but even in the absence of “a law” to decide it, there might be relevant principles.


          • When is a lie acceptable – Did the tooth fairy take your tooth? ( Supporting a lie) Santa’s grotto etc – if as a teacher or recently a vicar you were to “out” these lies there would be a strong and negative reaction.
            This seems curiously complex for what in essence is very simple – does the “lie” set out to or actually cause harm? Does it create an environment in which the children are excited about their learning? There is of course professional judgement for when this approach should or shouldn’t be used – a child with ASD would find this very difficult to differentiate.
            Equally as a teacher how many times have you found yourself saying “I am very surprised by …..” Or “I am very disappointed that you were involved in…” When reality the fact that Billy Bobkins has done X or little Alice is involved Y is niether a surprise or a particular disappointment.


      • So let’s be precise here then. So telling someone something you believe in, like let’s say various aspects of the creation, is not a lie if you believe it and even if the empirical evidence proved otherwise? Lies are only lies if you “know”what to be true is then communication to mislead. What you perceive to be the truth, no matter how erroneous it might appear to others, is not a deception or lie because you believe it to be the case?


        • All seems to be the old “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” scenario. Clearly the range of possible reasons for conveying false information is huge and it all depends on the context and the motivation as to whether lies, exaggeration, hyperbole, truth, data, interpreted data or facts are conveyed. I’d say its another one of those things can not be generalised, you’d have to debate each one on it’s own merits.


  15. I think the following sets out some of the key points being discussed here quite clearly. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/jokes-lies-and-jocose-lies.html


    • I really liked one quote in that piece. The quote was that a lie has a tendency to ‘attack the real community that truthful communication would foster’. I do sometimes lie to a class but it is that concern for undermining a relationship of mutual trust that makes me dislike big hoaxes or a casual disregard for the truth in one’s communications with a class.


  16. A few years ago, as deputy, I was tasked with redesigning our curriculum into a thematic approach.

    With another colleague I visited other schools who were proud of the way their curriculum was delivered – the best being those that really considered what children in their school needed and built from there. I visited IPC schools and saw how they used curriculum “hooks” to engage children. ( The space ship landing approach was a common one in a variety of settings)

    During all of this time I wanted to ensure that the children enjoyed their learning because their learning was enjoyable. Without looking back at the document I can’t remember if any “lies” were used. Not for a second was the use of drama which well might involve a fictional hook considered to have any other purpose than to excite and engage children in finding out about something new.

    You raise an interesting point Andrew and in truth I have never encountered the adverse reactions cited here either in my school or in schools of colleagues I visited.

    Should children though live in a binary world of empirical discovery? In my humble opinion not.


    • Did you look at the Mumsnet thread? After the first page or so there a lots of comments from those that were not really happy with the approach. The thread also has links to other threads discussing similar issues. It does seem that negative reactions are very common. There can be a vocal minority of primary parents but my impression is that most just seem to want to keep their heads down and avoid appearing like they are pushy.
      Should children live in a world where they can’t assume those they trust are telling the truth? I guess I think that while it is no bad thing that kids realise everyone lies, the lies I find unavoidable are perfectly adequate for that and there is a price in terms of trust for any deceit.


      • Children enjoy make believe – see a year 1 or year 2 teacher working with a puppet. It is though to claim the puppet is talking, a lie.
        I feel the question is simple but the answer is complex. When I designed the curriculum I didn’t look at Mums net – and I haven’t looked at Mums net ever – I am sure it contains some great stuff – but I was designing a curriculum for our children and Mums net wasn’t relevant.
        A vocal minority can’t be assumed to represent the views of the vast majority – though it is equally possible they may share them.


        • Perhaps I wasn’t clear, I wasn’t asking whether you looked at Mumsnet to design a curriculum. I was simply asking whether you had clicked the link in this blog and read more of the thread. I asked because you suggested you didn’t come across any children or parents unhappy with your approach but that link suggests that a good proportion of those commenting on the thread about these sorts of activities were unhappy.
          I have absolutely no problem with the willing suspension of disbelief and I can also see that using a puppet illustrates that things are not always cut. I think probably a very young child must frequently realise think they have misunderstood the world. When they realise people aren’t actually inside the television is another case in point. Personally I think that is different from the clear deliberate claim by someone you trust that something is true, especially something that seems very exciting, only to find it isn’t true.


          • Thanks Heather, no I haven’t looked at the link – but if the first post is anything to go by then I have the gist.
            My experience of designing a curriculum lead me to talk to those who had been on a similar journey and no one had experienced the sort of views Mums net details.
            I think we need to be very careful about this – following this line Santa’s grotto would be a thing of the past – desirable no, but empirical certainly.


  17. In this blog you seem to be complaining you were misunderstood and scoffing at those who got upset, I was offering an explanation for why that happened. It seems odd you won’t accept this. I’ll say again if you don’t want to be misunderstood and don’t want people to get upset, then choose your words more cautiously. If you don’t care what effect your words have then don’t complain about it.
    As for the argument about lying to children, I’ve written a blog (which you referred to) arguing why I think the term lying is the wrong one to use. And where I agree with your point, that misleading children in the classroom is neither desirable or necessary. Ironically, I think we are in general agreement on this.


  18. The most blatant lie used by Primary Teachers that I’ve read about is the infamous ‘spaceship crash landed in the school grounds’ lie. The scene is set up by the teacher early in the morning, before the children arrive, so that it looks like a spaceship has crash landed in the playground/school field. Some teachers go to great lengths to create the scene, even going as far as having a local community officer playing along. It certainly ‘grans the interests’ of the class and ‘wonderful writing’ results are blogged about in earnest.

    Not all lies are this big, many are very small, nothing more than a few chalk drawn footprints across the playground (and the planting of a dinosaur egg or two) to provoke the curiosity and imagination of the EYFS children when they go on their dinosaur hunt.
    These ‘lies’ are nothing more than elaborate scenes created to provoke curiosity and fire up imagination (I can hear you chew on those explanations) but that’s what they are in a primary setting. Blatant lying such as the firework episode you mentioned are just brutally dishonest.

    Everyday in a primary school playground, children will be acting out their own lies – aliens vs zombies, fairies, pop stars, Iron man, even teachers (all of these were acted by children from my EYFS class today). The primary teacher merely taps into their ‘lies’ and uses them as a backdrop for teaching and learning.


  19. It’s Sunday morning and I’m supposed to be doing the cleaning but always enjoy a quick look-in on you oldandrew. Haven’t had time to read many replies yet but your post has obviously got a lot of interest! I can’t add anything new to your conclusions but just wanted to be supportive and say that as I read the post it became very obvious that your original post about lying had simply been taken out of context in order to have a go at you. Surely people (parents on the whole seem to) are able to distinguish between the subtleties of different sorts of lies? I am a teacher of small children and can see the difference between the Australian trip and the spaceship incident described in one of the replies. Children pick up clues from the context but not only that, they were all in on the make-believe Australian trip and knew that at the end of the day they’d be going home and not to Australia! The spaceship incident was an elaborate set-up – as was the WW3 and building scenario and the children were never in on the deception. They weren’t ‘imagining how they’d feel,if’ they were duped regardless of how it may affect their feelings.


  20. […] should have learnt from the experience described here, or from phonics denialists, that for a lot of tweeters and bloggers, the methods used in the […]



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