“If you want your children to be bright, read them Fairy Tales. If you want them to be brilliant, read them even more Fairy Tales.”
When I was a child, I believed there was a Santa Claus; my parents were very convincing. Maybe the unconscious roots of skepticism—by which I mean, not a particular philosophical stance (like, say, the Pyrrhonists), but just doubt in search of evidence—go back to the discovery that it warn’t so. But I was still young, and one myth was easily replaced by another called Christianity: a myth with more room to grow, ultimately leading to study of some of the big theological thinkers. I have since spent some time studying other mythologies.
I have no grudge against fairy tales or myth: myth represents some of the highest art produced by humanity in its search for existential meaning. Mythic symbolism, from various cultures, can be rich in such meaning—Pueblo Indian creation myths no less so than the Biblical creation story, for example. Despite the fact that when one myth becomes “literalized” its adherents tend to scoff at the others; in forgetting how to read their own mythology, it seems they have forgotten how to read any of it.
Myth may embody historical events; but it is not history. Myth may articulate, in symbolic/allegorical and story form, sound philosophical propositions; but it is not philosophy. Myth may even tell of natural discoveries; but it is not science.
For my part, I say: let the children learn fairy tales and myth. As they grow, let them learn science, philosophy and the art of critical thinking. It is not teaching children fairy tales or myth—or religion—that stunts their intellectual development. It is conditioning them never to think outside a particular box; and I am convinced from my own experience (not with regard to Santa Claus) that some conditioning/programming during early childhood development can act later in much the same way as post-hypnotic suggestion, creating a block against critical thinking and exploration in certain areas.
Thus I see the danger, not so much in terms of the content of early education, but in terms of how the content is presented. I certainly don’t expect a religious believer to present their religious beliefs to their children as fairy tales or myth. I would only hope that they do not present it in such a way as to stunt or pre-empt later critical thinking. I know highly intelligent and reasonable people who, in applying their reasoning skills, conclude to one or another of the religious worldviews (maybe the one they grew up with, if any; maybe not). Generally, they are the kind of folks who are willing to continually examine and re-examine their beliefs. One does not have to be unreasonable to be religious, per se; on the other hand, even otherwise reasonable people cling to unreasonable beliefs.