USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘middle school’
Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

Lemonade,

iced tea

Coca-cola,

Pepsi

Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:

Lemonade,

crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.

Childhood
Customs
general
Initiations
Legends

Murder in John Adams Middle School

 

Material

In 5th grade I was told that some girl was killed in the girl’s restroom at John Adams Middle School. I was also told that a guy killed the girl and that there was a lot of blood.

Context

This legend is told to the 5th graders right before they go on to middle school. Both boys and girls are told this legend.

Informant Analysis:

The informant cannot remember exactly who told her the story all she remembers is that it was a fellow classmate and that everyone in the 5th grade knew about. The informant, as a current student at John Adams Middle School, does not believe that this event ever happened. She believes that this legend was told to the fifth graders so as to scare the incoming students of John Adams Middle School.

Analysis from Collector:

I agree with the informant that this legend is told to only the fifth graders who are about to go into John Adams Middle School. When I was about to go into middle school, I too was told about a murder that was committed in the middle school I was going to attend. Even though the place in which the murder was committed is different in both legends and there are different details to the legends, both legends do include a death of a student that attended the middle school. I further agree with my informant that this legend was told to scare the incoming students because at that age, the student is going through a major transition, that transition being  going into a different ‘bigger and harder’ school. This major transition would already put some fear into the students and to further scare them it would make sense to tell them about a death that occurred in that middle school. Being told this legend about the middle school can also be considered an initiation rite of becoming a middle school student. Once the student goes into the school he/she would be a middle school student because he/she would know the legend about someone being murdered in the school. If the student is never told about the legend, he/she will never fully be part of the group because he/she would not know the legend that everyone else knows.

Legends
Narrative

Haunted Middle School

Informant: “I know in the town next to us, there is a middle school and there is a legend that this boy fell into a hole in like the thirties or something and they were pouring cement and he got trapped under the cement and there was like somehow an air passage that he was able to breathe through, through the cement that they poured on top of him. But then he died there, and so now this ghost haunts the school and if you knock on the principal’s door three times, he’ll knock back.”

 

The informant comes from a small town in California. The informant states “there is nothing to do there, it is just a small town and the biggest thing we have is a Walmart.” She said that because the town is small “everybody knows each other, and we kind of grew up together.”

The middle school from the tale is located in Redlands. The informant learned this tale as a child from her mother. The informant’s mother used to live in Redlands and attended this middle school. The informant remembers this tale because “Its just one of things you’re told that you remember when you are a little kid just because it is interesting.”

The informant does believe in ghosts and has had a personal experience with a ghost. When asked, the informant recalled that “the house I grew up in until I was seven was definitely haunted, I saw his ghost multiple times, and it wasn’t just me, my parents saw him. We would go to bed with all of the windows and doors shut and we would wake up and they would all be wide open, you would hear banging on the pipes and whatnot. We found out that the person who lived there before us died in the house. So the ghost was of the guy that died there.” Thus, ghosts are very real to the informant.

According to the informant, some kids will try to knock on the principal’s door to see if they can get the ghost to knock back. Thus, some kids use this legend to go on a legend quest. The story is also rather morbid and represents a fear of death, especially a slow painful death.

Folk Beliefs
general
Initiations

Cracking Jaw Causes Brain Cell Explosion

You know that crackling, snapping sound you hear in your ears when you yawn? When I was a kid in middle school, the other kids were always trying to come up with medical-sounding, crazy ways to explain normal things a body does. And everything you did seemed to cause brain cells to die, because that was the worst thing imaginable. For a while everyone was saying that when your jaw cracks, what you’re actually hearing is the sound of your brain cells exploding. Which was super bizarre and frightening. I think they knew that wasn’t true, but we all started freaking out about it.

This explanation the kids created to explain the sound their cracking jaw made, seems like an idea kids would tell other kids to scare them like they had been scared. These frightened children would then tell their parents, who would tell them this wasn’t true. This led to a cycle of initiation, as kids scared their peers with this pseudo-medial knowledge for status. As middle school kids are often told it’s important they develop their brains, and take drug education courses focusing on how drugs negatively impact their brain’s development, it seems natural that at this age there would be so much fear that they could be causing their precious brain cells to explode.

Childhood
Initiations
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pig Bear Legend and Ritual

The informant is 21 years old. She’s Sri Lankan and now attends the University of San Francisco. She entered seventh grade at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Canada in 2003 and graduated in 2009. During seventh grade, she (along with the rest of the class) was divided into groups to be mentored by a senior Peer Counselor throughout the year. These Peer Counselors accompanied the informant’s class on the annual class trip to Big Bear at the start of the year.

The informant was home for spring break this week and I took the advantage of interviewing her for this folklore collection project. She came to my house and I asked her to briefly describe the legend of the “Pig Bear” that is well known to every student at Flintridge Prep and has been passed from senior class to seventh graders for years. This is what she told me:

Informant: At night, they (the Peer Counselors) told us that we had to stay in our cabins at night because of the uh legend of the Pig Bear. It was a monster half pig half bear or maybe even just a monster I’m not sure…that came out to eat children or the children would never be seen again…So there were some of us that didn’t believe in the Pig Bear and were joking about it and once we were getting into bed there were these huge BANG BANG BANGs on all the doors and screaming in the distance…so we all ran out to see what happened. We thought it was the Pig Bears, come to get us, but it turns out that the seniors went around doing it, banging on doors and throwing things. But we were ok…ended up laughing about it after, but it was scary at first.

Me: Why do you remember this?

Informant: Because it was part of the tradition of the seventh grade trip and you don’t…it’s something that you remember when someone asks about the trip because it’s been passed down through the grades…I’ve even mentioned it to random college friends.

Me: Why do like it?

Informant: It makes the trip more exciting, more than just a school trip…it’s got a little bit of the scary story feel. The Pig Bear feel made it extra fun.

Me: Why do you think they do this every year?

Informant: It’s a rite of passage kinda…because for the seventh graders it’s a chance to bond over something funny and spooky and for the seniors, they already went through it so they can make it come alive for the baby classes.

As the informant says, the importance of the legend appears to lie in the fact that it’s closely associated with the rite of passage of officially becoming a seventh grader at Flintridge Prep. The legend binds the class together as they experience terror upon it’s supposed re-enactment, and then relief that it ends up being just a trick. Because the Pig Bear legend re-enactment takes place at the beginning of the year, it also serves as a way to initiate the new seventh graders into life at Prep. The seniors pass on this piece of school folklore and eventually, the seventh graders will grow up and have their chance to pass it on, too.

Game

Flip Tag

I was in my informant’s dorm room chatting to her roommate after class, and when I turned around, I found that my informant had flipped my backpack inside out, so that the straps and front pocket were now on the inside.

My informant learned this practical joke in middle school. She first observed the joke when it was done to her, and she subsequently performed it on others. She told me that this joke is typically played as a game of tag, so that when someone flips your backpack, you are now “it” and have to flip someone else’s backpack. The person who is “it” turns the victim’s backpack inside out, puts the contents of the backpack back inside, and zips it up. In another variation—the more annoying one, according to my informant—the entire backpack is flipped inside out and stuffed into the front pocket of the backpack. In this version, all of the contents of the backpack and the front pocket have to be removed since they won’t fit inside, and are left in a pile by the zipped-up backpack packet.

The flipping often occurred in class or at lunchtime, said my informant. Students played the game because it was a way to entertain themselves during the school day using the materials available to them. Everyone carries backpacks in middle school, so everyone is a potential victim. The goal, presumably, is to flip someone’s backpack without them catching you in the act. It probably takes skill to flip someone’s backpack quickly enough that they don’t notice, so this could be a way of impressing friends. Also, it could be a team effort to flip someone’s backpack, with someone distracting the victim while someone else flipped the backpack, turning the game into a “bonding against the outsider” scenario, with the victim being the only one who isn’t in on the joke. Because the flipping sometimes occurred during class, the flipper also had to be careful not to attract the teacher’s attention. The game is therefore a way of defying authority. The flipper also gets to go through the contents of the victim’s backpack, so part of the appeal of flip tag could be that it is a way to satisfy curiosity or invade someone else’s privacy under the pretext of a game.

general
Humor
Narrative

Joke – San Marino, California

So one day I was walking on the beach when I saw this girl with no arms and no legs crying on the shore. I went up to her and asked her why she was crying. She said, “I’ve never been hugged before.” So I gave her a hug and said, “There, now you’ve been hugged.” But she was still crying. So I was like, “Why are you still crying?” She said, “I’ve never been kissed before.” So I gave her a kiss and said, “There, now you’ve been kissed.” But she was still crying. So I was like what the heck and asked her why she was still crying. She said, “I’ve never been fucked before.” So I picked her up and threw her in the ocean and said, “There, now you’ve been fucked!”

Pierre remembers hearing this joke from a really funny guy at his middle school in San Marino, CA. Although he thinks it is a little mean, he thinks it is more hilarious. In this joke, several motifs can be seen. There is the presence of the number three, which appears in numerous jokes. The character that the teller becomes during the joke asks the girl three times why she is crying, gets three responses, and acts accordingly three times. The punch line appears at the end of the joke, as it normally does. The punch line in this one is effective because the listener has the mindset that the girl was suggesting a sexual action, but the main character of the joke ironically acts upon the other meaning of the word “fucked,” which is being in a difficult situation, and throws her into the ocean. Since the listener was led to believe that sexual intercourse was suggested but it did not occur, this joke resembles a catch riddle in which the listener is caught thinking a socially inappropriate thought because the wording or the content of the riddle actually led the listener to think in such a way.

This joke also includes profanity, the issue of sexuality, and social standards. Pierre said that he heard this joke in middle school, which is a fairly early time for children to speak profanely and address the issue of sexuality. Yet, many jokes such as this one serve the purpose of allowing children to explore adult issues that may be prohibited or considered inappropriate for children. Jokes are viewed as acceptable ways for this exploration and discussion because the issue is excused after the laughter. Social standards are portrayed within this joke as well. The whole narrative is centered on the girl crying because she has yet to experience certain things that society suggests are things that people should have experienced, including hugging, kissing, and engaging in sexual intercourse. Since it is socially accepted to have experienced these acts, the main character feels obligated to provide these experiences for the girl. However, it is also shown that simply asking for and giving out sex is also considered socially unacceptable, which is why the joke ends with a different interpretation of the action. This joke is an example of how adult issues are subtly included in jokes.

general
Legends
Narrative

Ghost Story – Hispanic/Native-American

The San Buena Ventura Mission in Ventura County, CA was built on an Indian Burial ground.  Next to the mission a school was built called Holy Cross for grades kindergarten through eight. One of the buildings was really old, it was first building of the school. The school used to be a small one-building school. The building had a bell tower and the bell tower was said haunted by the spirits from the burial site. Friends of Charly claim to have heard funny noises and seen shadows when no one was there. The bell tower was torn down 4 years ago. On the night the tower was torn down people nearby claimed that there were strange noises and lights around the construction site. A new, really large school building was built in its place. Now it is said that if you are at the new building at night time lights will flash on and off and that you will hear sounds. These are supposed to be signs from the angry spirits in the burial ground. They were angry that they were built on top of in the first place and remain angry that buildings still stand over the burial ground.

Charly went to Holy Cross School in the 6th grade. She said that she heard the story when she became a student at the school. She said that the new students were always told this story when they first got to the school to scare them. This ghost story could be seen as a type of initiation for the new students. Charly said the kids would tell the new kids this story and then also embellish different parts of the story. She said that the kids would pick normal, modern objects and claim that they were haunted too just to scare the new kids and make them feel uncomfortable. This would go on only for a few weeks in the beginning of the year according to Charly, after that liminal period the students would get tired of scaring and just accept the new kids.

The setting of angry Indian spirits is a common beginning to many ghost stories. The Indian polytheistic belief system is directly juxtaposed with the Christian monotheism in this story because a Christian mission is built on top of the burial ground. This may symbolize the stomping out of Naive American beliefs by monotheism and the oppression the Indians went through during the colonization and Christianization of southern California. The angry spirits are a means of retaliation by the Indian people and also bring recognition of their presence.

The active bearers of the story are middle school aged children, ages 12-13. At this age kids are beginning to want to impress others, boys impressing girls and vice versa, and therefore scaring a new kid may be a way to impress these groups. Also, if a new kid says he or she’s not scared he will probably impress the new kids more than if he bought into the story and revealed his fear.

Kids telling ghost stories or daring each other is a commonplace in middle schools, especially when it involves welcoming a new person into social groups. At this age social groups and standards are becoming more important and cliques are established. The ghost story of the Indian burial ground at Holy Cross appears to serve more as a hazing ritual for the new students at the school versus a story actually investigated by the students.

Childhood
general
Humor
Life cycle
Riddle

Riddle – United States of America

What do you call a lesbian dinosaur?

—A LICKALOTTAPUSS!

Carlos said that he learned this joke from a cousin of his while he was in middle school. He attended middle school in southern California. He does not remember exactly what age he was when he first heard it, but he guesses to have been between the age of 11 and 14. The riddle is told randomly with no real introduction. The riddle can be told anywhere but is usually only told to those of about the same age.

I asked Carlos why he repeated the riddle to other and he simply answered “because it’s funny”. The riddle seems to be more than just funny. It appears to be part of the transitional period between child and adult. The child is leaving behind the fantasy world of dinosaurs and other creatures which they play with and the sexualized American adult life. It is a period when ideas of sexual orientation play a big part because as children grow up they began to gain a sexual identity.

[geolocation]