Tag Archives: school

Yearbooks as Folk Art

Main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my informant (MS). 

MS: So, a yearbook is traditionally issued at the end of the school year when you’re in elementary school through high school… and they have pictures of everyone in the school taken throughout the year… and you’ll usually write messages in your friends’ books.

LT: But not all messages are equal (laughs). 

MS: Yeah, like in elementary school, everyone just wrote their names because we didn’t know how to write many things, but generally, in high school, it’s bad to just write “HAGS,” which means have a good summer… you want to write something more heartfelt because people often keep yearbooks and will want to be able to reminisce on memories and stuff in the future, so you need good messages. If someone writes “HAGS,” they probably don’t know you that well. 

Background: 

MS is one of my best friends, and she grew up in Los Angeles. She got her first yearbook when she was six years old, at the end of Kindergarten. She often jokes that she’s a “hoarder” because she keeps a lot of things for their sentimental value, including yearbooks. She actually just read through all of her old yearbooks the night before our interview since she “wasn’t doing anything better during quarantine.” Her favorite thing about yearbooks is reading the messages. She likes to think about who she’s still friends with and who she doesn’t stay in touch with. She also likes the messages that remind her of memories she wouldn’t have thought of on her own. 

Context:

MS and I normally see each other most days at USC, and we’ve been continuing to FaceTime often during this quarantine period. This piece was collected during a “Zoom Happy Hour” with our friend group. 

Thoughts:

In American culture, we often stress the importance of being “cool in high school.” Media often promotes the idea that an American teen’s self worth can be measured in how many friends they have. Yearbooks are a physical way we can quanitize that. I remember reading through my mom’s old yearbooks as a child, and I was so impressed by how many people had signed it. When I was in high school, I would actually get stressed and feel pressured to make sure every blank page in my book was covered with signatures. Now, as a college student, I don’t even know where most of my yearbooks are. In MS’s case, it’s nice to reminisce about the memories with dear, old friends. However, she doesn’t particularly care about the messages written by people she wasn’t close to. Yearbooks symbolize the things that felt so important as a teenager that don’t particularly matter later in life. Inherently, yearbooks are a really sweet tradition that should be treated more authentically. 

School Game- Spundalele

Context: My informant grew up in Texas during the ‘70s. In elementary school during integration, he was one of the few white students transferred from a white school to a black school. He recalls a game the black students taught him called Spundalele. The first time someone “spundaleled him” he was surprised and angry because he didn’t understand it was a game. Once he understood, he and the other white students quickly adopted the game and played it every day. He says it was one of his first interactions at his new school, and it was a game that quickly brought together the white and black students. 

The Game: M: “Basically, if you have something in your hand, and somebody knocked it out of your hand, said ‘SPUNDALELE!’, and then picked it up before you could…it was theirs and you don’t get it back. Well I mean you can take it back under violence, but that’s not really part of the game.”

To Play:

  1. Find someone with something in their hand
  2. Knock the object out of their hand and onto the floor
  3. Shout “spundalele”
  4. Attempt to pick it up before they can
  5. If you succeed, you get to keep the item
  6. If you fail, they get to keep the item

The game works best if everyone knows the rules before playing

My thoughts: The concept of this game is strange to me; why would you play a game where people take each others’ things? But as an elementary school student in the ‘70s, you probably aren’t carrying anything of great value. Integration was a dramatic change to schools in the south, so if this game brought people of different races together, it sounds like a good game to me.

Lemonade, Crunchy Ice

Main Piece:

The informant recited a rhyme that she remembered from elementary school. 

“Lemonade (clap, clap, clap)

Crunchy ice (clap, clap, clap)

Sip it once (clap, clap, clap)

Sip it twice (clap, clap, clap)

Lemonade, crunchy ice, sip it, once sip it twice

Turn around, touch the ground

Freeze”

The informant explained after one girl said freeze you lost by being the first person to move, so the girls would stay frozen for as long as they could.

Background:

The informant explained that there were many rhymes that she and her classmates would turn into games. Having these rhymes memorized was seen as being really cool or made you more popular, according to the informant. This occurred at a public, co-ed elementary school in a suburb of the midwestern United States.

Context:

This game would be played between two girls. The informant explained they would normally play when they were waiting in line between classes or after recess to pass the time.

Thoughts:

Rhyming games like this one exist in many iterations all over globe but the emphasis on lemonade and ice in this rhyme seems particularly American. It also evolves into a competition by the end to make the game carry on beyond the words. School girls can use these rhymes to develop friendships and bond with one another. It creates a small community of girls that can all join in on something similar and play with one another in an organized fashion. This form of folklore holds significance in childhood and also evokes nostalgia for adults. The informant explaining this to me was an adult but recalled this rhyme with ease.


Drowned Girl Haunts Classroom

Main Piece:

Informant: There were actually, like, 2 ghosts. I think one of them was a little girl, because where her school was built there used to be a community pool. I was told that there was a little girl who had passed away or drowned there. And then she haunted the foundation of the school. So in one of the classrooms, either the Science or English room, on the same day every year it floods kinda. And that’s the same day the little girl passed away. So, the teacher of the classroom always says the little girl is still there.

Background:

The informant is a twelve-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in sixth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my ‘sister IO’. I asked if she knew of any ghost stories or places that were haunted. Recently, one of our other siblings ‘sister NO’ started attending a new middle school. IO shared what NO had told her about her new school (which is detailed in another Main Piece). 

Thoughts:

It’s an urban legend that haunts a middle school, a transitional time for students. New teachers. New peers. New School. Legends have the ability to provide meaning in a chaotic social environment. The role of spirits play a large part in our culture, challenging our perceptions of linear time and dimension. Spirits have also been seen as a way of changing mentalities and conflicts that appear between theology and popular thought. They are a reflection of our own social insecurities and change that remains incomprehensible. Ultimately, legends and supernatural phenomena become a way of coping and interpreting the unknown and dealing with situations that remain beyond human control. 

Bloody Mary

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (AH).

CB: “Can you tell me about Bloody Mary?”

AH: “Yes! So I learned about Bloody Mary when I was pretty little. I think that it was one of my friends in elementary school that taught me about it, but I don’t really remember honestly. But, uhhh…. The superstition was that if you went into the bathroom at night, traditionally you’re supposed to do it at midnight. But you go in and you flick the lights on and off again three times, and you say ‘Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary’ and she’s supposed to appear to you and kill you. 

CB: “So what does Bloody Mary mean to you?”

AH: “Bloody Mary was the very first folklore that I remember. I used to be scared shitless of Mary, whoever the fuck she was…. Oh! No! She wouldn’t kill you right away, her bloody severed head would appear in the mirror, and there would be blood in the sink, and then she would kill one of your family members the next night. That’s what it was!!”

CB: “But why do you think that piece of folklore is important?”

AH: “I just always thought it was kinda a way to keep kids out of the bathroom at night. I don’t know.”

Background:

Bloody Mary is a very popular tale or game that many of my friends and I have heard growing up. My informant and I discussed how the game seems to only ever be played by girls, and is very heavily associated with elementary school bathrooms. We compared versions of the story that we grew up with, and laughed at our fears. I had heard that the ghost was based on Mary Queen of Scots, and that she would haunt young girls because she was killed at a young age.

Context:

My informant called me with stories prepared after hearing that I had been interviewing other members of our family for folklore. We had a fun and casual conversation, exchanging versions of stories that we had heard growing up.

Thoughts:

Bloody Mary is a really common childhood game because it reflects young girls’ universal apprehension about blood and bathrooms. The fears associated with the game also reflect modern social portrayals of bathrooms as a dangerous space. Girls are taught from a very young age not to go to the bathroom alone. I grew up hearing stories about men hiding in women’s bathrooms to kidnap, rape, or murder the women who go in their. Because of this, girls begin to internalize this fear of bathrooms, particularly public bathrooms, at a very young age. This game reveals is a way for girls to channel and address their fears associated with a public school bathroom, often with the protection of their friends.

For another interpretation of Bloody Mary see “The Psychology of Extraordinary Beliefs” published by The Ohio State University. https://u.osu.edu/vanzandt/2019/04/17/bloody-mary-from-the-bathroom-to-the-laboratory/

Four Square

  • Context: The informant (A) is a 15 year old high school student in Utah. He explains the rules of the game Four Square to me and the various rules that can be added to the game. He notes that the game can be played with any ball as long as it bounces (though the ball typically must be the size of a basketball or soccer ball). The game is usually played on a designated court, though you can play it anywhere the ground is divided into 4 equal squares serving as the court. The game is also typically played at school, usually in elementary or middle school during recess. This conversation took place as the informant and I were trying to remember all of the rules of four square together, although he remembered them all, while I did not. 
  • Text:

A: “There’s so many types of four square”

Me: “What types?”

A: “Black magic… um… pac man, double-touch, single-touch, um… cherry bomb… um”

Me: “Are those different types of…”

A: “They’re different rules… those are different rules”

Me: “What is four square?”

A: “So four square you have this big square divided into four labeled A, B, C, D. A get’s to decide which rule is played with and starts out with the ball and you hit it to…”

Me: “What kind of ball?”

A: “It doesn’t matter you can play with a basketball, soccer ball, volleyball, um kickball… it just has to bounce. And then they hit it to the square and if it bounces twice in your square… um… then you’re out and then you’re sent back to the line… and then… then you’re sent back to the line. And then say you’re in C, the person who was in C goes to D and the person who was in the front of the line goes to… uh… D.”

Me: “Where do you play?”

A: “On the four square court.”

Me: “But where are the four square courts? Just in your neighborhood?”

A: “No… you play it at school.”

Me: “So what are the different rules?”

A: “So I’ll just go with the top 5. So, pac man is you got the person in A runs around the square and if you get tagged with the ball you’re it, but they can’t throw it at you… I mean you’re out… but they can’t throw the ball at you. Double touch is where you have to hit it up, like you have to hit it up so it bounces to you… so you hit it up then hit it into someone else’s square. Single touch you can hit it once. Cherry bomb is you go really far apart and you throw it at each other.”

  • Analysis: Four square is a school yard game played by both girls and boys in middle school. I was surprised to hear all of the rules the informant knew were the same I had played with in middle school even though I am 6 years older than the informant. The rules, such as black magic or cherry bomb, give the person with the ball a sense of power over the rules of the game. In addition, the rotation of players between the squares establishes a sense of hierarchy between those who stay in and those who get out. I believe this game is played at school because that’s where there is access to bouncing balls, a quart, and a large amount of players. I think the game is usually played in elementary school and middle school because those are the years recess is granted, so there is free time to play, where as in high school there is no designated play time.

The Ursuline Ghost

(trigger warning: talk of self-harm)

 

INFORMANT: Do you remember the ghost story about the nun that haunts Ursuline?

 

ME: Yes I do, but go ahead and tell me about it.

 

INFORMANT: Okay so in the entryway of the highschool Ursuline, they have an old picture of a class where you can actually see this ghostly figure in a window in the background. The legend is that the nun killed herself in the school and is now cursed to walk the halls for eternity. I remember when I took a tour of the school, I got goosebumps and instantly creeped out. I didn’t even know the story at the time but I knew that place was haunted. It’s also just super old and creepy looking

 

Background

The informant fully believes that the school is actually haunted by the nun and found the picture that everyone references online. She originally heard the story from one of her friends who attends the all girls school and has since passed it onto her friends at her school as well.

 

Context

Ursuline Academy is an all girls private Catholic school in Dallas, Texas. The informant is currently a student at a different, co-ed private school in Dallas.

 

Thoughts

The idea that the nun was forced to haunt that school as a result of killing herself is a statement about the catholic roots of the school. In Christianity, suicide is considered a sin instead of a result of depression. This concept that suicide is a punishable act may have contributed to this story (it should be noted that there is no record of a nun ever dying on the school’s grounds- much less commiting suicide on school grounds). On the other hand, Christians believe in Heaven and Hell and therefore don’t believe in ghosts. So the idea that a servant of God would be damned to haunt Earth forever is a naturally rebellious idea that goes against traditional beliefs.

 

The Circle Game

“I think it was called the circle game. So you put your fingers like this (forms a circle with the index and thumb finger and if the other person sees you get to hit them. We would always play this in school and we thought it was funny like oh you lost because I made you look”

Context: Informant did the circle game to me and I looked and we both started laughing. So later I asked her to explain the game to me.

Background: Informant is a fourth year student at the University of Southern California. She recalls playing this game in middle school. They would play this in class and whenever possible. She learned it from some of her other friends who did it to her. When she looked and everyone laughed she started trying to also trick her friends into looking.

Analysis: When I was in middle school we played the same game but I do not recall getting to punch anyone if I tricked them into looking. If someone looked the person got bragging rights. Online there are also more rules attached to this circle game. For example, it must be below your waist in order for it to be considered a fair win. Also, the person who is looking can break the circle if they remain eye contact and break the circle by putting their finger in between their circle. The variety of rules that are not always shared among all groups of people that know the game show how some rules pass on while others don’t however the gist of the game does still remain the same.

AQUEL CARACOL SCHOOL SONG

Main Piece:

“Aquel caracol

Que va por el sol

Que en cada ramita lleva una flor

Que viva la vida

Que viva el amor

Que viva la gracia de aquel caracol”

 

That snail

Going by the sun

That in each twig bears a flower

Long live the life

Long live love

Long live the grace of that snail

 

Context:

The informant is a 54-year-old man from Guadalajara, Mexico. He learned this rhyme from his primary school. They learned many songs like this one. He believes that they were taught these songs in order to encourage the children to sing in front of their peers and to not be shy.

Kilachand Hall is Haunted

Content:
Informant – “Kilachand Hall is supposedly haunted. That’s where the honor students live. It used to be a hotel. The most famous resident was a playwright named Eugene O’Neill. There was also another famous writer there who won a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer or something. I don’t know. But anyways, O’Neill died in this hotel. And BU bought the building and turned it into a dormitory. Strange things have been going on on the fourth floor ever since, cause that’s where he lived. Apparently he died there. Lights inexplicably dim. Elevators stop working and open on the fourth floor for no reason. There are knocks on the door when no one is outside.”

Context:
Informant – “I heard it on my college tour. It makes me not what to live there haha.”

Analysis:
Eugene O’Neill did in fact die in Kilachand Hall (formerly known as Shelton Hall). I think this legend is popular because it is a reminder that a famous person died in the building. It adds panache to the idiosyncrasies of an old building.