When we were first asked in class to name a favorite book from our childhood, one of my favorites, Stephanie’s Ponytail by Robert Munsch, instantly came to mind. It is not pornographic, sexist, or egocentric. The story goes a little something like this:
Stephanie is a young girl who goes to school and is bored with everyone’s plain long hair. She goes home and asks her mom to make her hair into a ponytail. When she goes to school the next day with her new ponytail, all the girls yell at her “UGLY UGLY … VERY UGLY!” Stephanie glares at them and says, “It’s MY ponytail, and I LIKE IT.”
Stephanie goes home, unaffected by her classmates, and returns the next day with a ponytail again. This time, however, all of her classmates have ponytails too. “COPYCATS!” yells Stephanie, “BRAINLESS COPYCATS! You just did that because I did it. You have no brains in your head.” The next day Stephanie wears a ponytail on the side of her head to be different. All the other students tell her that her hair is ugly but come back with the side ponytails like hers the next day (even the boys! Love how the book was not sexist). Stephanie can’t believe how everyone keeps copying her, so she tells all of the students that tomorrow she is going to come back with a shaved head. She comes back the next day with a ponytail, and… everyone has shaved their heads. In response to their shaved heads, Stephanie tells them, “UGLY, UGLY… VERY UGLY!”
The point of Stephanie’s Ponytail is clearly to encourage young children to do what they think is right and not just follow along with the crowd. The author shows that oftentimes, kids will just go along with what they think is cool and not dare to be different or think for themselves, like Stephanie did. Because Stephanie ends up the only one without an ugly shaved head at the end, Munsch tells his young readers to think for themselves—a very Enlightened thought. Locke comments on the idiocy of many students:
“But how any one’s being put into a mix’d herd of unruly boys, and there learning to wrangle at trap, or rook at span-farthing, fits him for civil conversation or business, I do not see. And what qualities are ordinarily to be got from such a troop of play-fellows as schools usually assemble together from parents of all kinds, that a father should so much covet, is hard to divine.”
He also writes, “… therefore I cannot but prefer breeding of a young gentleman at home in his father’s sight, under a good governour, as much the best and safest way to this great and main end of education…”
According to these excerpts from Thoughts Concerning Education, Locke would most likely agree with Munsch’s point that students need to try to think for themselves and be different. Locke would HATE the students in Stephanie’s Ponytail!
Strasburg writes about children’s tendencies to be persuaded by the media: “Children are eager to learn, have less real-world experience, and have less developed cognitive skills, making them ultimately more vulnerable to media messages.” Young children have less strongly formed opinions, and are more likely to be swayed by the media and less likely to know how to think for themselves. The same goes for peer pressure in schools, as evidenced in Stephanie’s Ponytail.
In “Ode Upon a Distant Prospect of Eton College,” Gray writes, “Yet ah! why should they know their fate? Since sorrow never comes too late, And happiness too swiftly flies. Thought would destroy their paradise. No more; where ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise.” This is an outdated view that contrasts with the message of Stephanie’s Ponytail. The children’s picture book is advocating to NOT be ignorant and go along with what everyone is doing. In this sense, Stephanie’s Ponytail is a modern counterargument to Gray’s opinion that ignorance is bliss. Instead, Munsch believes children should be different and question what the crowd is doing blindly.