I Review Books
The Grammar of Fantasy: An Introduction to the Art of Inventing Stories by Gianni Rodari
One of the most elusive characteristics of what I’ve seen in Reggio Emilia is the relationship between fantasy and reality in the daily doings there. In a new book from Teachers & Writers Collaborative (5 Union Square West, NY, NY 10003-3306) we have the theoretical basis for this easy movement between fantasy and fact. Called The Grammar of Fantasy , written in beautiful, accessible and poetic language, translated seamlessly by Jack Zipes, a teacher who wants to learn how to help children make stories has here all the toolsshe or he needs.
Playing with language is something that comes easily to some of us. It feels like a gift, like perfect pitch. But Gianni Rodari shows us how to invitae others into the games we play with language. He tried this out at Diana School in Reggio Emilia and gave a series of lectures there in 1972. This book tells us some of the stories he made up, but far more important shows us the process of making up stories, by oneself, in a group, and giving the tools to the children so they can do it also. Their stories are quite perfect, and, like children’s drawing and painting, have a quality which
charms both adults and children in the audience. <br>
Schools have traditionally relegated imagination to a very small place, valuing memory and attention much more highly. This book leads us into imagination. It shows us, as have Sylvia Ashton-Warner
and Vivian Gussin Paley, how we can help children use their images — pictures in their minds which have importance and meaning to them — and make wonderful creations from them. <br>
So Rodari talks about "The Fantastic Binomial" that is, the ability of the mind, given two words that normally are not related, say, streetcar and refrigerator, to make a connection, a story,
that is satisfying. Children can do this too, as is illustrated in the book with stories about "light and shoes" and "dog and closet". What would the children in your class do, if presented
with such word-pairs? <br>
And he talks about hypotheses: What if a lion walked into the police station? And "fairytale salad" What if Cinderella bumped into Tom Thumb on the way to meeting the wolf, what then? <br>
In a chapter called "Recasting Fairy Tales" the Cinderella story is analyzed (Cinderella (A) lives in the house of her father (B) and stands in a relationship to B, different from the relationship that her stepsisters (C and D) have with B. While B, C, and D go to the palace, (E) where there is some kind of event the ball (F),
A remains alone. However, thanks to the intervention of G, A, too, is able to go to E and makes an extraordinary impression on the prince (H). Etc. <br>
Then Rodari shows us how to move further and further from the original cast. We use the structure of the Cinderella story, changing the characters and the place but keeping the SHAPE of the story, weaving
it until Carlo (who replaces Cinderella as A), the Count’s stable boy, with the help of the cabin boy,( who replaces the fairy godmother) stows away on the yacht (replacing the Ball, E) taking the Count (who replaces Cinderella’s father B) and his children (C and D) on a the vacation trip (F). The yacht is shipwrecked and Carlo gives a cigarette lighter to the island’s medicine man (H) and as a result is celebrated as the god of fire. <br>
In another section of this rich book Rodari introduces us to Propp’s cards: <br>
A German named Propp analyzed the themes of fairy tales into their elements. Cards were made for the children, to help them construct stories. I found even the translated titles of these cards difficult, and have rewritten them in terms I think could be illustrated for English- speaking children: <br>
1. Someone goes away from home. <br>
2. A rule is given to that person. <br>
3. The rule is broken. <br>
4. The villain tries to find out what’s going on. <br>
5. The villain receives information about his victim. <br>
6. The villain attempts to deceive his victim. <br>
7. The victim gets fooled and so (unwittingly) helps his enemy.
. . . Etc. (There are 31) <br>
The children use these cards to generate stories: a father leaves the house and tells his children not to throw flower vases from the balcony onto the heads of pedestrians (1, 2, 3); a difficult task is to go to the cemetery at midnight (25) etc. <br>
Stepping back from the specifics of the book, what we have here is a map into a world neglected in most schooling, but not at campfires nor at bedtimes in nurturant homes. We have the enchantment of story and the science of story, connected. People have made up stories for very good reasons, and need them as surely as we need food and
drink. When schooling avoids storytelling, the schooling maladapts us for being human. <br>
When Reggio children study the shadows they draw a lot of shadows — from imagination, from observation, after tracing real shadows on sidewalks etc. This is representation of experience, or representation of theory and not experience, but it is all scientific inquiry. These hypotheses, once drawn, can be compared with future experience,
and found correct or incorrect or, interestingly, sometimes correct. They are, if you will, stories: the bird shadow will fly into the cage (taped bars on the wall) and back out this afternoon; things that move, like people and butterflies, have shadows that move, while things that stay still, like trees and houses, have shadows that stay still. Whether true or false, these stories help children examine their world more carefully, thinking like scientists think.
I believe in what I have come to call “hot cognition”— the driving of learning by emotional attachments or passions. Stories always engross humans, so they are rich stuff of which to make learning. They have internal logics which differ, in kind, from mathematical logic: a man changes into a cat passing under a barrier. To change back he must pass under the barrier again, from the other side. If he goes across the barrier as a cat, he must go over it, to avoid its magical properties. Do you see?
When Rodari helps us see connections between science or math and story he helps us knit our lives back together. When he helps us see how education and art come together, he helps us do our jobs well. Rodari says: ‘By using stories and those fantastic methods that produce them, we help children to enter reality through the window instead of through the door. It is more fun. Therefore, it is more useful.’
by Jane Roland Martin
The Schoolhome: Rethinking Schools for Changing Families by Jane Roland Martin, 1992. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Today’s schools are based on a factory model, put in raw materials, pass them through several stages, and come out with a finished product. Jane Roland Martin, in her lively and cogent book, says that schools would better serve the whole community: children, parents, teachers and the general public— if they focused on the development of community based upon the best model of home and family.
Citing John Dewey’s dictum that when society changes, schools must alter to reflect those changes, Martin says that as young children have come to be cared for more and more outside the home, we have lost the curriculum that was taught in the home. That curriculum is one of care, concern and connection to others. These three C’s got lost because, as a society, we have never validated as tangible assets the work women do at home for free. The work of the Academy has been seen as education; the work of the home has only been socialization, not as weighty or scientific or important. Where does that leave our culture’s ethics?
Martin proposes a reorganization of the school that incorporates at the most tangible, visible, honored level, consideration of the values we need— cooperation; tender respectful treatment of all people; and gender, race, and class equity— if our society is to heal itself. Martin reminds us that our constitution commits us not only to “establish justice” but to “insure domestic Tranquility.” Neglecting to develop this part of our “more perfect Union” leads to street and domestic violence (especially violence against people— people of color, women, gay people, the weak elderly, and the undefended young — from groups who haven’t learned to respect), depression, apathy, cynicism, prejudice, greed, and a long list of other grievous sins.
The best early childhood theories and practices recognize the need to support positive social interaction and to honor and permit appropriate expression of the feelings of all members of the classroom. We often have better theory than we have been able to implement. Reading Martin enlarges the vision and helps us refine and enlarge our vision of wholesome, productive schools right up through the grades. One is reminded of what A.J. Muste said: “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”
Martin bases her vision in the work of many others — Plato, the Founding Fathers, William James, John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Richard Rodriguez, and feminists of both waves in this century, including Virginia Woolf and Carol Gilligan. Martin uses metaphor and logic to support the primacy of ethical education. She reconnects us with the long view of schooling and opens possibilities that delight. Without a vision, one cannot travel far.
This review was published in Young
Children (the journal of the National Association for the Education
of Young Children) May, 1993.
Literacy as Snake Oil: Beyond the Quick Fix,
Edited by Joanne Larson, New York, Peter Lang, 2001
Review by Sydney Gurewitz Clemens
My telephone is ringing these days with teachers and caregivers wringing their virtual hands over the new education bill that brings testing children’s skills to a new and fierce level and silences teachers (you cannot use such-and-such a language in your classroom, you cannot use such-and-such a book, you must do what everyone else is doing despite your best judgment).
As if that would help the children, the schools, or the families.
Joanne Larson has brought together a distinguished group of scholars who write simply, clearly, and with precision about just what is at stake in the Bush literacy boondoggle (otherwise known as “The No Child Left Behind Act,” a name stolen from Marian Wright Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund). James Paul Gee explains that reading is complex, and identifies what will drop out with a simple emphasis on phonics. Gerald Coles shows the lack of science in the “scientifically based” instruction package we’re being sold. Patricia D. Irvine and Joanne Larson show us the discrimination which is embedded in the commercial “literacy packages” Lynn Asterita Gatto shows us how this plays out in a classroom with living breathing children and teachers. Patrick Shannon unmasks William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education and Drug Czar, and now big wheel at the Heritage Foundation and author of much which purports to teach values … but not the values of justice and wisdom. Kris D. Gutierrez looks closely at California’s English-only policies, and the costs to immigrant children and their teachers of this oppressive legislation. And Brian O. Brent shows us how penny-wise expenditure on literacy packages isn’t a good bet.
Now, underlying all these writings (and they are accessible writings, keeping the reader interested, learning, and outraged) is the idea that writing isn’t to be decoded, but to be considered, that reading isn’t mechanical but deeply critical, and that children aren’t to be manufactured but to be grown.
We needed this book. The publisher, Peter Lang, is to be congratulated on putting it in our hands at this time.
Years of Promise: A Comprehensive Learning Strategy for America’s Children
First appeared in Childhood Education, September 1997
This report underlines our collective responsibility toward children from communities that have historically not provided good education. It emphasizes that children and families are not the problem, and cites many examples of children who succeed once programs are designed to meet their needs.
Theresa Perry & Lisa Delpit, Editors. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998. 192 pp. $12.
First appeared in Childhood Education, March 1999
On Dec. 18, 1996, the Oakland, Calif., School Board passed a resolution stating that teachers who better understand the structure and history of the home language spoken by many African American children will be better equipped to help them use standard English. Unfortunately, the press and many people of good will distorted the true intention of this resolution (which was not clearly worded, and since has been revised). The 17 contributors to this book correct the misinformation surrounding the debate.