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Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten

Observer Viewpoint | Friday, December 2, 2005

The other day, while reading my morning paper, I became saddened by what I saw. Stan Berenstain had passed away last Saturday at the age of 82. No, Mr. Berenstain was not a close family friend or relative of mine, but I would bet that his name rings a bell with many of you. Stan Berenstain and his wife, Jan, were co-authors of the popular children’s series The Berenstain Bears.

Perhaps not all of you had the same experience growing up as I had, but as a child I recall that not a night went by when I did not get my bedtime story. Most of these nights I chose for my mom or dad to read a Berenstain Bears book. Though I was not a cub, nor did my family live in a split-level tree “down a sunny dirt road deep in Bear Country,” I could really relate to the Berenstain’s. Just like the Berenstain Bears, my family had a father, mother and older brother. Also just like Papa, Mama, Brother and Sister, we were not perfect and so sometimes we had to learn our lessons too.

Though I loved to read their tales time and time again, looking back I can see why my parents were always more than happy to oblige with my book requests. Each Berenstain Bears book was an entertaining story, but more importantly, each one had a good lesson for both young and old alike. At the end of each book you could always expect to find Papa Bear with the moral of the story and life for the Berenstain’s went on happily ever after.

While these books about a happy little family of bears do not reflect all aspects contemporary society (the books do not contain families with only a mama bear, step-brother and step-sister bears, or families with two papa bears), they still have good messages for children. I remember reading books by the Berenstain’s that emphasized the importance of sharing, doing your chores, not judging someone before you get to know them, cleaning your room, hard work, going to bed on time, and having good manners. In addition, the books eased some of my concerns about traumatic childhood events such as visits to the doctor and dentist, as well as a trip to the mall to see Santa Bear.

By now we should all be practicing ideals on our own without having to look to illustrated bears for an example. Nevertheless, we cannot undermine the fact that these books were a great way to teach us how to become the caring, compassionate, responsible and hardworking young adults we are today. As children we are easily influenced by the things we hear and see. Today many people argue that with all the violence on television and in video games, children are becoming overexposed to adult themes and growing up too fast. These people feel that society would be better off if it reverted back to some of its more traditional values. They stress that, just as Papa and Mama Berenstain were always there to teach Brother and Sister a lesson, parents should take an active role in their children’s lives.

The death of a man who could instill these essential values in children is truly a great loss. Through the Berenstain Bears, Stan and Jan Berenstain were able to solve everyday family situations and teach children basic “do’s” and “don’ts.” These lessons transcend decades and generations, which helps explain why the Berenstain Bears remain a popular series for children throughout the world after 42 years. Today you can find the Berenstain Bears on television, on stage at your local theaters and you can even email Papa, Mama, Brother and Sister Berenstain via the official Berenstain Bears website.

Upon his death, many people have expressed their sympathies to the Berenstain family and have shared their gratitude for the books that had influenced so many of us growing up. While many thanked Berenstain for wonderful childhood memories and the joy they got from reading his books, others reflected on what they had learned from his books. One Arizona woman wrote, “The Berenstain Bears books taught manners, morals and about family. Something the world could use a little more of. Wouldn’t it be great if we all thought like Stan & Jan?”

How very true that is. The world would be a much better place if we could all take the most basic lessons we learned as children to heart as adults.

Molly Acker is a senior communication studies and humanistic studies double major at Saint Mary’s. She can be contacted at acke6758@saintmarys.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.