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BOSTON--The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who star in a sequel to their big screen debut, are bringing violence rather than the virtues of truth and justice to the classroom.
That's the conclusion of a new survey of teachers around the country.
"The Turtles encourage violent and anti-social behavior among young children and have a disturbing effect on learning, behavior and play," said Diane Levin, an associate professor of education at Wheelock College who co-authored the study.
Some adults may think the four lean, mean green fighting machines--named for Renaissance artists--are more likely to spark a child's imagination than the run-of-the-mill musclebound superhero. But 73 educators from 19 states who responded to the survey said kids emulate the turtles' karate chopping and pizza chomping, but little else.
Ninety-five percent of the respondents provided examples of aggressive behavior linked to the turtle characters, Levin said.
"The way the Ninja turtles work out their difficulties is by socking each other and knocking each other," said Hanne Sonquist, who sits on the National Association for the Education of Young Children's governing board.
Sonquist, who runs a workshop for parents and young children in Calif., was one of the survey respondents.
"It's totally programmed and scripted so that many children who watch a great deal of that kind of programming have less access to the imagination," she said.
Levin, who has written books on children's fascination with war play, conceived the survey after parents and teachers asked her to take a look at turtle mania. She conducted the study with Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an associate professor of education at Lesley College.
"When the Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles came out, we immediately began to get telephone calls from teachers and parents telling us how kids were going crazy," she said.
Levin sees no end in sight, especially now that a sequel to last year's box office success "Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles" is due soon in theaters. The new film's premiere is scheduled this week in North-ampton, Mass., home of the turtles' creators.
The story of the turtles' birth certainly strays from the superhero script. They started out as aquarium pets, but mutated after falling into a pool of radioactive glop in a New York sewer. They were raised by a rat, Splinter, who taught them Ninja skills to fight crime.
Peter Laird and fellow artist Kevin Eastman, who dreamed up Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello, failed to respond to a request for comment on the study.
In an interview last year, Eastman and Laird took a more tranquil view of their creations.
"I think they're appealing for a number of reasons," Laird said. "The turtles live their lives with the philosophy that they don't want to hassle anybody and they don't want to be hassled themselves. But when trouble comes, they're able to handle it."
Eastman speculated kids are attracted to the turtles because of "the family attitude with the four brothers and Splinter playing the father figure and the teacher."
Levin acknowledges the Ninja turtles aren't the first superheroes to beat up on the enemy. But the intense marketing of everything from turtle toys to lunchboxes has provoked an obsession with the creatures among children between the ages of 18 months and 10 years, she said.
Superman had friends, and a life outside crime fighting as his alterego, Clark Kent. "The generic hero, kids could try to emulate," she said.
Not the turtles. "Mostly what they do is fight," she said. "They're very unidimensional."
Some teachers noted that they had used the turtles to try and inspire children to learn about other subjects. One teacher noted she was able to involve more boys in an art project by asking children to make turtle masks.
In some cases, though, trying to link the Ninja turtles to classroom projects backfired. That happened when a teacher brought live turtles to class.
"We have one case of a turtle being killed by being thrown against the wall," Levin said.
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