Whenever I get together with my friends from my teaching days the conversation leads to children and what they know and don't know. Often we speak of the classic nursery rhymes, Aesop's fables and fairy tales and how few students seem to know them. We are always amazed at their ability to comprehend technology from a tender age but comprehension of even The Three Little Pigs, Bears or Billy Goats can be surprisingly absent.
I was in the public schools for many years and educational trends can be a blessing and a curse. In our attempt to build literacy skills from a young age, the issue of writing became a major focus. The idea that the earlier we start children in the writing processes the better. So for even with our youngest learners in Pre-K, K and First grade we have established story writing centers for students to put into words their life experiences and ideas. But what if we have not established the story base from which to build. Are their own "stories" relevant before they have the ability to recite a nursery rhyme, sequence a story and act out a fairy tale?
As a speech pathologist I have held a theory that if a child can't express in words what they are learning and why they are not getting the full benefit. My teaching friends tell story upon story of fourth and Fifth grade children that cannot summarize a simple childhood story like Jack and The Beanstalk or The Boy Who Cried Wolf. This can be due to underdeveloped expressive language skills or unfamiliarity with the story but either way it needs to be remedied. Students do better with Fairy Tales due to Disney's proliferation of films but they are relating visual images not recall of the spoken or written word and there is a profound difference.
Classic stories teach values and rhythm of speech and help children build a foundation of general knowledge. Only then can they transfer their own ideas into a story. The curriculum is bulging in schools and truth be told there is no conceivable way for teachers to cover all of it. Old time activities are falling off the list and it is adding to the culture of technology first and verbal communication skills second.
Story exposure is not the sole responsibility of teachers and parents could do tremendous good in their child's development by consistently having reading time from a young age and covering the classics. Some teachers and parents are indeed managing to do this and do see the benefits. As a society we might do well to worry less about early writing and more about the love of reading for pleasure and the spark of imagination a classic story brings.