Lessons of Little House on the Prairie

by Ryan Walker

Here at Walkerland, we have taken to watching old episodes of Little House on the Prairie.  This has been going on for a week or so now, and honestly it has had a fairly large impact on me, for a variety of reasons.

The first thing is this: the morality displayed on the show is incredible.  In fact, I suspect that simply playing the show for kids, over and over, would result in better kids than many parents are capable of turning out on their own.  I routinely feel like a louse while watching it, as some of the decisions the characters make are so intuitively good, my own moral inferiority lies in stark contrast.  I am not a bad guy but compared to Charles Ingalls, for example, I am a lazy scrub!  And his wife? Wow, what a powerful woman.

It is kind of unrealistic to compare yourself to a fictional character on a television show – this I realize!  At the same time, why not?  If you see an example of someone or something that inspires you, does it matter where it came from?

Lessons on morality, independence, self sufficiency

Charles Ingalls was, for me, one of the foundational fictional characters of my youth.  As a boy, I watched many episodes of Little House on the Prairie.  I think back to what an advantage that was.  It seems silly, but do kids today have the opportunity to turn on the television and receive an instant lesson on morality, independence, self sufficiency?  We got rid of our cable television years and years ago, so I cannot say what modern television today looks like.. however, being a gambling man, I’d wager, sight unseen, that I could put LHOTP up against anything currently out there, and as a way to teach morality, personal responsibility, and caring for one another, nothing would come within a thousand miles of it.  So, while my head, as a child, was filled with stories of an independent family, making do for themselves against all odds, what do the kids of today get to watch?  Garbage, that’s what.

The show is incredibly refreshing to watch, as none of the current societal afflictions are present.  I love the interaction between the two main characters, the husband and wife.  Charles is the man of the house, and there is no damned question, he is the MAN of the HOUSE.  And yet, his wife Caroline, she RULES the house.  There is no squabble for dominance and no question as to roles.  He takes care of his stuff, oversees hers.  She takes care of her stuff, oversees his.  When one is weak, the other steps in.

Working Together & Mutual Respect

The lack of tension over gender roles is also remarkably refreshing.  Charles earns the bacon, generally.  Caroline runs the home, generally.  In partnership, they raise a family.  Within those roles though, things bleed over.  Caroline raises chickens and sells them to the local store.  Charles does take an active role in parenting, although breadwinning is always his priority (it’s that, or starvation.)

There is one episode where the family is destitute because of a failed wheat harvest.  Charles goes away to work.  He meets a guy on the road who takes him (and a third guy) to a mining pit, where he gets a job working a double jack.  He works for a few weeks, and just before going home, his friend blows himself up.  Charles and the third guy take all their wages, put them into a bag and Charles delivers that bag to the widow.  So, he keeps none of the money for himself, gives it all to the widow, and shows up at home with empty pockets.  Well, in his absence, Caroline organized a bunch of farm women and they all harvested the storm-blasted wheat by hand.  They salvaged enough of the crop to eat over the winter.  She saved the day.  In today’s world, at least according to what I see, the man would feel weak, a failure .. and the woman, she’d be harping on her man for not bringing home any money!  There was ZERO of that.  They just loved each other and worked together, covering for each other as necessary, as an implicit, integral part of the deal.

What Are We Doing?

I think of all the uptight feminists of today, fighting for things that don’t even make them happy .. and the bitter, lost men who have give up hope of a mate.  I think of the copious amount of anti-depressant and mood altering prescription drugs that are prescribed, many of which are relationship related.  I think of the children who will grow up in a world where the perception of sexual identity is becoming more and more complex by the second, where the traditional idea of marriage is being destroyed.  I think of all of this, and I shake my head at how unnecessarily complicated we have made everything.

I should note that as far as I am concerned, do what makes you happy, as long as you hurt no one else. The problem today is, everyone jumps on the first concept, but the second?  Not so much.  The general thinking is more: do whatever you want as long as it makes you happy.  This is so flawed, so small.

Television is not real life, and any argument to the contrary is a bad argument.  With that said, I challenge you to watch a few episodes and to put yourselves into the minds of these characters.  Throw yourself back into the times of the horse and buggy, and consider: are things really that bad?  Is this old way of being really that unenlightened?  Watch the show.  When you find tears creeping into your eyes and find yourself asking, philosophically, “Why are we such complete assholes?”, you’ll understand what I mean.

If you like this you might also enjoy reading How to Learn Faster and Better.  You might also enjoy checking out the Little House On The Prairie Website.


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8 comments

Anna December 11, 2016 - 5:00 pm

Well said Ryan, challenging thoughts. We just learned on Friday night the difference between love in English and love an Hebrew (the original language) that goes well with this. In English we love what is good for us: we love the dish and the person that prepared it. Both are good for us. Love in Hebrew is “Ahavah”, the root of the word is “to give”. To be a lover is to be a giver. I guess the Ingalls new more about that kind of love.

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Ryan Walker December 19, 2016 - 10:57 am

Thank you for the comment Anna, and the insight.

I read a similar description recently, love being said to consist of “furiously wanting the best for someone else, even if, and perhaps especially if those things happen to cause suffering in you.” As with most concepts that aid in spiritual growth, it’s a 24/7 FUN PARTY.

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Deb March 7, 2017 - 5:52 am

Wow! Superbly written! Wonderful insights! Your essay reminds me that I want my grandchildren to watch (& read!) LHOTP. As a kid I loved the books; as a young mother, I loved reading the books to my kids AND having them watch the shows. I didn’t really pay attention to what was being learned as we read and watched. As I read your essay, tho, I was reminded that we had been learning as we had fun. Thanks! Your essay about PC was also SPOT ON!

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Ryan Walker March 7, 2017 - 11:47 am

Thank you very much for your kind words: I appreciate the feedback and support. I think LHOTP is a gem, in all senses of the word: can’t agree with you more strongly. My essay on the PC stuff just got more relevant, what with the Wikileaks vault 7 dump, confirming all kinds of things that were only previously suspected.

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Grace March 14, 2017 - 8:27 pm

We’ve been watching lhotp too for about 3 months. And I’ve been wanting to go off grid more and more. I really beleive we would be better off to go back to being self sufficient. As much as possible.

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Linda April 4, 2017 - 12:20 pm

Ryan, well put! My younger son and I read the Little House books ( which are a bit different than the TV series) and both of my boys are thoroughly enjoying the TV series ( just finished season 4). I think a combination of upbringing, faith, input ( such as media), education ( including Boy Scouts) and social circles are shaping my boys to be of great moral character. We often get comments from teachers, parents and strangers about their solid character.
While not perfect, we try to teach self sufficiency on a small scale by growing our own vegetable garden, berry bushes and apple trees. We raise chickens and are looking into bees for honey and a milking goat. We gather firewood/kindling in the spring and fall to prepare for the winter. We can our produce to put up for the winter. We teach our boys to shop locally, use the farmer’s market, and get to know (and help out) our neighbors.
While the times of Little House are long gone, the values must not be lost. It is up to us, as parents, to inspire our children.

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Beth Beatrice August 22, 2017 - 10:16 am

I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books several times when I was young, and I’ve re-read them to my children as an adult. They helped to form me as a young person, but I found them to be even more remarkable in reading them as an adult. The message of FARMER BOY (written about Laura’s husband’s boyhood in upstate New York in the 19th century) is absolutely astounding! The final chapter is quite moving, as Almanzo’s father and mother argue whether he should be apprenticed to the wagon builder (his father’s notion), or whether he should farm. The boy, given the chance to give his opinion, wants to farm. His mother is relieved, because she passionately argues that “a farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you’re a farmer, you can raise what you eat, raise what you wear, and you keep warm with wood cut out of your own timber. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You’ll be free and independent, son, on a farm.” The message of the rest of the books about Laura’s family, seems to be that with love, goodwill, freedom and determination, a family can have a rich and happy life together.

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Carol November 13, 2017 - 6:02 pm

So well written and couldn’t agree with you more. Little House is based on the true story of Laura Ingalls, and even though the show is the Hollywood version, it’s so much better than what’s on today. I’ve watched countless episodes as a girl and have recently enjoyed watching them again. Read the book series too. Oh what it would be like to live in simpler times!

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