While teaching second graders folklore, we wanted to begin with a fun activity to get them excited. To teach them about the different ways to communicate folklore–oral, written, or mediated–we decided to play the game “telephone” to show how oral transference can be vulnerable to alterations. When we asked if anyone knew the game, the whole classroom did. We were prepared to explain the rules and it was not necessary.
Research the origin of this party game and you find the old title “Chinese Whispers”. This name is popularly heard in the UK, for unknown reasons. It follows the same rules: one person whispers a phrase or story to another and then that person passes it along until the last person reveals the story they heard with the humorous accumulation of changes.
The name “Chinese Whispers” formed in the United Kingdom in the mid 20th century. Apparently it had used to be called “Russian Scandal” and got switched for unidentified reasons. A theory is that the addition of “Chinese” was meant as an insult to the Chinese race and implied that this particular race did not know what they were talking about most of the time. But this is not a cemented theory due to the lack of known political conflict between the Chinese and United Kingdom.
It is interesting that all the children in the classroom knew of this game. It serves a good purpose though in the maturation of children. It teaches the reality of gossip. This is a big lesson that needs to be learned and the youthful, entertaining game does just the trick. Folklore is said to carry some purpose, whether explaining a phenomenon or providing an easy way to teach lessons; and Telephone fits this category.
When doing the game, the message got one hundred percent changed and modified. But, when we used this outcome to explain the struggles with oral word instead of written, it reached the kids so much easier. There was no need for trust, they saw it for themselves. And, that is the point for child folklore.
“There was a scorpion and a frog, they were friends but then the scorpion eats the frog and they become one scorpion-frog.”
Interviewing second graders, it was hard to get detailed accounts of the myths they have heard. However; I looked it up and there actually is a myth of the scorpion and the frog:
The Scorpion and the Frog
A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the
scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The
frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion
says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”
The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream,
the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of
paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown,
but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”
Replies the scorpion: “Its my nature…”
This is interesting because the myth told by Anthony does not produce the same lesson. The myth recited seemed more of a story, eliminating a real message or meaning. But, it does follow the similar theme of the scorpion betraying the frog. It has a purpose of exposing audiences of the threat of humanity, that humanity is not always dependable. There are people out there that have psychopathic tendencies and you can not blindly trust those around you.
In some analyses of this myth, researches have popularly said “Don’t be the frog, and accept your inner scorpion–kind of a dark message. It intrigues me that a second grader would have heard of this myth, or at least some rendition of it. It has no comparison to characters of any marvel heroes or popular disney films. He said he had heard it from his father, and, when taking in his socio economic status, it could be a reflection of the troublesome life and race for sustainability and comfort in this impoverished time. The concept that sometimes you have to surrender to your own means of survival and disappoint others; an interesting concept to teach children.
We all know that famous rhythm, door knock, pattern: “dah dah di dah di, dah dah”. It is used all the time, everywhere. It used to knock on a door, to get someone’s attention, and in the second grade classroom I taught at, it was used to get them to silence and focus.
Turns out, this pattern has an interesting back story. In morse code it punches out as: dash dot dot dash dot, dot dash. Because morse code does not focus on letters but patterns and combinations, this certain rhythm actually means “attention.” In war days, soldiers would execute this certain pattern to let a comrade know that they were of friends, not enemies, or that they had a prisoner. When passing code all day it was considered humorous to tap out this “attention” pattern.
The popularity grew however after it was featured in many popular songs. Artist’s like Joel Sayre, Dan Shapiro, Lester Lee, and Milton Berle all used this in their music and the catchiness spread. Many musicians included this in reference to war time. The height of its fame however came from the old song “Shave and a Haircut”– which is now the common name for the clap. This song was placed in a commercial for Lucky Tiger Aftershave and it never was forgotten.
Interestingly enough, this pattern is heavily advised not to used because it gets translated in a much more negative form. The connotation of this seven phrase knock is insulting and vulgar. It contains the inference of cruel language and aggressive violence.
However, in the classroom, as in many American classrooms, this is used a common tactic to get the students to focus and look up at the teacher. When the classroom got noisy a child came to me and said “Just do the clap!” I proceeded to clap the five times in rhythm and the students followed by finishing off the last two and sitting quietly.