Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, but then what did Jack do? Many youngsters didn't know, said a researcher who is worried that the nation may be forgetting Mother Goose.
"We've made Walt Disney our storyteller," Bette Goldstone, an education professor at Beaver College, said before she marked Mother Goose Day on Wednesday as proclaimed by the Mother Goose Society of Melrose Park."We're not losing the fairy tales. They've all been converted to cartoons and motion pictures," she said. "But we are losing the Mother Goose."
Mother Goose has a lot of educational value for youngsters and some teachers are taking advantage of it, Goldstone said.
"You're speaking in their language pattern. That's how propaganda works," she said. "Kids like to play with language. This is more relevant for them than Care Bears or Rambo."
Goldstone surveyed 150 preschoolers in suburban Philadelphia during the past two years to determine their knowledge of six basic Mother Goose rhymes. Thirty percent couldn't say where they learned about Mother Goose or said they hadn't heard of it.
More than a third of the children surveyed didn't know "Jack Be Nimble," "Hey Diddle Diddle" or "Little Miss Muffet," the survey said. More than a quarter didn't know "Pat-A-Cake."
The rhymes mirror children's language patterns, Goldstone said. "Hey Diddle Diddle" is a prime example, as is the alliteration of "Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater," she said.
The violence and alleged sexism of Mother Goose has generated criticism.
An English critic wrote in 1641 that the poems were inappropriate for children, and in 1952 researchers compiled a list of 40 topics they considered taboo.
The unsigned list, which Goldstone has shared with her children's literature class at the college, said the body of Mother Goose works includes eight allusions to murder; two to chokings; deaths by squeezing, starvation, boiling and hanging; one body snatching; eight whippings; 14 thefts and one case of lunacy.
Other critics allege promiscuity, as in "Georgy Porgy," who kissed the girls and made them cry, and the abuse of the wife of "Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater," who kept his wife in a pumpkin shell.