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Inside the Classroom (And Out)

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Inside the Classroom (and Out) examines folklore and its many roles in education. Several articles explore teaching in rural school houses in the early twentieth century, while others provide insight into more serious academic scholarship in the field of folklore itself. One chapter looks at the "early years," including works about day care centers, scout programs, children's books, and the basic definition of what we mean by "folklore." Another chapter covers high school: cheerleading, football, yearbooks, and beliefs of Hispanic students. There is a chapter dedicated to Paul Patterson and his contribution to teaching; a chapter that covers college experiences, with stories about early Aggies, ghosts on university campuses, and collegiate cowgirls; and a chapter involving scholarly works, such as ways to help improve our memories, a linguistic study of cowboy poetry, and a comprehensive look at folklore studies.

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Part 1a. The Early Years

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Part 1b. The Early Years

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Chapter 1. Folklore in a Literate Society

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here will, I predict, be readers, particularly among those who teach English composition to college freshmen and have made the frustrating discovery that Johnny can’t read, who will maintain that this essay can have no reference to the

United States. Yet, that is the reference intended. For even though

Johnny can’t read as well as his teacher wishes, and even though

Americans read fewer books than the British, the scripts they listen to have been written by somebody. Besides, nearly everybody reads something—if not the Philadelphia Bulletin, then the Readers’

Digest, the Wall Street Journal, the Dell Comic books, or the Rexall Almanacs. But even if there is an American who reads nothing at all, he lives in a culture whose most important determinant is the written word.

What happens in America, therefore, has a significant bearing on what happens to folklore in a literate society.

When you read, let us say, Louis Adamic’s description of a peasant wedding in Yugoslavia, with its mock fight for possession of the bride, suggestive of a remote antiquity when marriages were made by capture, you say, “How quaint. This is folklore.” What do you say when you read about the weddings reported in the society pages of your local newspaper? Here are a couple of examples:

 

Chapter 2. Folklore 101

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hat is folklore? And how do we know it when we see it?

These are not necessarily easy questions to answer.

Sometimes adults even have trouble figuring out what folklore is; they may even disagree on whether something is or is not folklore. This, however, should not discourage any of us from trying to identify, study, understand, and repeat the folklore that we find around us.

As many of us have heard or said, folklore is the study of folk.

That sounds so easy, but it may not be as easy as it sounds. So let’s take the word apart and see if we can discover what really is the study of folk. Folk, of course, are people. To study them, we need to look at them as members of groups. We generally join with others who think as we do, feel as we do, and believe as we do. In other words, we will create groups with others who reinforce what we think, feel, and believe. So a great way to analyze people is to look at the groups they form.

Let’s take a minute to think of the groups to which we might belong. We can categorize ourselves by age: Are you young or old?

 

Chapter 3. The Faultless Starch Library

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n unusual collection of thirty-six little booklets called

The Faultless Starch Library records an interesting era of history in a very different mode. Created in the early

1900s to advertise Faultless Starch, the contents of the library and the story of its creator give an interesting picture of “the folk” at the turn of the century in a unique and interesting manner.

Located in the “west bottoms” of Kansas City, Missouri, near the point where the Kansas River flows into the Missouri River, the

Faultless Starch Company still produces starch for Americans. The company lost vital information about their history in two wellremembered floods in June 1903 and July 1951. Although the company still retains three complete sets of the original booklets, the flood destroyed the records of the creators of The Faultless

Starch Library.1

There is one clue to the past that time and the flood did not erase. Although none of the booklets carried his name, the company believes that D. Arthur Brown wrote the text. Who was this man? Certainly a large part of the character of D. Arthur Brown can be seen in the spirit of the light-hearted little booklets. An intense search in Kansas City revealed new answers—a testimony to the immortality of a very special printer.2

 

Chapter 4. Day Care Oral Traditions and School Yard Games

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“T HUMBKIN ”

Where is Thumbkin? Where is Thumbkin?

Here I am. Here I am.

How are you today, sir? Very well; I thank you.

Run away. Run away.1

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veryone remembers this song, but do you remember where you learned it? If you’re like me, it was probably at home. My younger brother and I both recall my mother constantly singing around the house, teaching us not only the pop songs she loved, but also childhood standards such as

“Thumbkin” and “Patty Cake.” I remember learning how to do

“Itsy Bitsy Spider,” which I eventually taught to each of my children. I have fond memories of when I was a young girl growing up in Iowa and learning to play stickball and Kick the Can in the alley behind my house. My friends and I shared local urban legends, and

I never tired of hearing my grandfather tell stories during family gatherings. Most of these memories are tied close to the home because that is where most of us once learned the songs and stories we all cherish from our youth. Parents told fairy tales at night, and songs, games, and local lore were shared throughout the day by all family members.

 

Chapter 5. You Can Tell A Scout From Texas

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eople have many different images of Boy Scouts—a boy in a funny looking hat and knickers helping a little old lady across the street, youngsters in sharp uniforms marching in a parade, or perhaps a group of scruffy guys telling ghost stories around the campfire. Though scouting still encourages outdoor skills, patriotism, and service to others, the ghost stories have gone the way of knickers and helpless little old ladies, while campfires are traditional, ceremonial occasions with songs and skits.

Scouting has grown during its seventy-nine years in America. The

Cub Scouts program is now open to boys in grades one through five, while the Boy Scouts program is for those between the ages of eleven and eighteen. Their uniforms and activities have changed to keep pace with the times, yet many of their traditions echo those of the fathers and grandfathers of today’s scouts.

For any scout gathering, a flag ceremony is the traditional opening and closing.

The flagpole also provides a good place for songs and cheers. Throughout Texas, in Boy Scout camps and

 

Chapter 6. It All Depended on the Teacher

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Resolved: Texas should be divided into two states.

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hen Carl Halsell suggested a debate defending or attacking that idea to the boys who had arrived early one fall morning in 1922 at their country school ground to practice basketball, most of them looked puzzled. Carl knew that the students, who seldom saw a newspaper and had no radios in their homes, would learn at least a few research techniques, as well as gain confidence from having to stand in front of their parents and friends and express opinions, whether they actually believed in their defense or not. When he laid out his plan, however, his pupils looked at each other with skepticism. How could they argue for something they definitely didn’t believe in? To them, boasting that they were citizens of the biggest state in the

Union set them apart from Yankees, Arkansawyers, and Okies.

Finally, their teacher convinced them that the topic merited their thought. Two of the boys said they would argue the affirmative, even if they didn’t believe it.

 

Chapter 7. Folklore in Schools

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Introduction

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he relationship that I see between folklore and schooling has a great deal to do with my personal experience. I came to teaching by a rather circuitous route, beginning with the study of classical Chinese at universities in Taiwan and

Kansas, through graduate study at the Folklore Institute at Indiana

University, and after work in adult education and as a bilingual case worker for Indo-Chinese refugees. When I went back for elementary certification, I intended to teach for one or two years and then go into curriculum development. Two surprises stand out as I remember my first year of teaching: first, the class of fifth graders with whom I was to spend the year, was as complex and unique a culture as any I had ever experienced, and second, teaching was more intellectually taxing and fulfilling than any job

I had ever had.

As I tried to make sense of my new environment, I drew upon my experience and knowledge base. I saw that I was having difficulty getting access to the floor and that I was struggling with other speakers for control of conversational topics. I began to notice myself using certain formulaic phrases (“We’re reading”) that I had not known that I knew. These phrases occasionally had magical properties, so I continued to use them though they often sounded strange even to my own ear. I noticed that there were day-to-day rituals, that some students seemed to step in and out of roles during the school day, and that I seemed to adopt roles in response, again almost unconsciously. I was caught occasionally between my past as a folklorist and my present as a teacher, as I admired the beautiful speech strategies students sometimes used to completely destroy my well-planned lessons.

 

Part 2a. High School Years

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Part 2b. High School Years

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Chapter 8. Knowledge About Folk Medicine Among Students in Alice High School

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[I found this article by searching our database for articles related to education; the words “High School” in the title jumped out. I read the paper and liked it, so we decided to include it. However, we could not locate the author, Elizabeth Galindo, and no one could remember how she came to present the paper at the 1989 meeting in Uvalde. Through diligent detective work, Heather and I tracked her down. Unfortunately, Ms. Galindo (1930–2001) is now deceased, but her daughter, who is also named Elizabeth, told me of her mother’s interest in folk medicine and her involvement with the school system in Alice. We are thankful for her research, although not all of it could be located so as to be included with this piece. Perhaps, this will serve as an inspiration for someone to pick up where she left off, as was her wish.—Untiedt]

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s part of a broad study of folk medicine and its use among all age groups in South Texas, during the fall of

1988, I conducted a survey of high school students in

Alice, Texas. The purpose of the survey was to discover how many of the students were familiar with the different aspects of MexicanAmerican folk medicine, including curanderismo and the wellknown illnesses among them, which are usually dealt with by family members or someone in the neighborhood and are not found among other ethnic groups. I wanted to know if the students knew any curanderos and if they had consulted them.

 

Chapter 9. School Yearbooks

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o one is surprised that yearbooks reflect history, but some people wonder how yearbooks reflect folklore. For many years, definitions of folklore strictly adhered to the idea that folklore included such things as the traditional beliefs, legends, customs, songs, and stories of a people and specified that folklore must be passed on orally from one generation to the next.

More modern definitions, however, give broader meaning, emphasizing the importance of the written record and even stating that

“the scope of folklore is as broad as the folklorist has the imagination and intellect to make it.”1 That is my license.

During the past year, I have studied hundreds of school yearbooks from every corner of Texas. I have found that yearbooks contain much more than mere memories. When viewed as mirrors of history and of prevailing traditions, attitudes, and behavior patterns, they become time capsules of Texas folklore. By the early

1900s, many Texas schools produced annual yearbooks, the earliest of which used words and drawings but few, if any, photographs.

 

Chapter 10. Two-Bits, Four-Bits, or High School Cheerleading as a Lay Folk Ritual

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few years ago the estimable Professor James Ward Lee regaled us with an account of the lore surrounding the

Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, but when I learned that those seeming voluptuaries are actually a bunch of Dallas housewives who parade their persons for reasons I shall leave to their shrinks, I lost interest. But Lee did a dangerous thing; he started me to thinking. The result is what follows. My purpose is to point up and to describe some customary lore that no one, to my knowledge, has as yet delineated: high school cheerleading.

To prepare for this paper I have called upon some forty years of seeing high school football, off and on, returning last fall to observe one more game, and more especially, I turned folklorist in earnest and did a survey involving nine cheerleaders, who practiced their art at West

Texas high schools in the last few years. They came from towns stretching from Hondo, just west of San Antonio, to

Fabens, a suburb of El Paso.

Their names are appended to this paper, and I’ll refer to individual ones on occasion, but

 

Chapter 11. Seeing Red over Varsity Blues

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ast year I had the occasion to speak to a group of students at Stephen F. Austin State University, in Nacogdoches. Having just written a social history of old-time

Texas high school football coaches, I was curious to poll the students about the perceptions of their own head coaches back home. On my informal scale of 1 to 3—one being Fred Flintstone with a gimme hat and whistle and three being their favorite uncle—all but a smattering of about seventy students said their coach was like that favorite uncle.

So now, MTV brings us Varsity Blues, with Jon Voight playing

Coach Bud Kilmer, the stereotypical troglodyte. The first view of

Voight left no doubt about where this film was heading. It was at a pep rally, full of excited high schoolers—band blaring, cheerleaders screeching—who fell into a reverent silence at the mere outstretch of the coach’s hand, outstretched, that is, in a not-sosubtle Nazi salute.

Here was a man who had brought the fictitious West Caanan two state titles and twenty-two district championships in thirty years. And this season, he boasted, he was gonna bring ‘em number twenty-three. If there was any doubt that the town worshipped their coach, you had only to look past the corner of the end zone to see his graven image standing sentinel over—you guessed it—

 

Part 3a. A Tribute to Paul Patterson

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Part 3b. A Tribute to Paul Patterson

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Chapter 12. ’Jes Sir, Meester “Patternson”

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t is possible for a Master Teacher to become a legend. Mr.

Chips, for example, though he is out of fiction. Miss Dove.

There are others.

This paper undertakes to show how a potful of folklore attached itself to the Pecos River Pilgrim Paul Patterson, erstwhile cowboy, and how that folklore, given a little time, has made legendary his reputation in West Texas education.

As a rule, we know a person first, by what he says about himself, second, by what others say about him, and third, by what we observe from what he actually does.

Paul tells that he plunged into a “poverty-plagued profession” in 1935 at the “darkest depths of the Great

Depression.” The place was Marfa, his assignment to Jesse Blackwell Elementary School, exclusively Mexican, this being “pre-desegregation, pro-discrimination days.” Armed with an ego, over-sized for a fellow his size (by his own admission), thirty hours of education classes at Sul Ross State University and his text on child behavior in hand, Paul entered a classroom only to be met with “planned pandemonium and contemplated chaos.” Where in his textbook were the recommendations for countering misbehavior? Probably in Volume II, which

 

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