Wednesday, March 09, 2011

"Mommy Went To Somewhere Really Dangerous"

(Fairy tales) tell children what they unconsciously know – that human nature is not innately good, that conflict is real, that life is harsh before it is happy – and thereby reassure them about their own fears and their own sense of self.  ~Arthur Schlesinger

When children tell their stores to me I try very hard not to edit, although I exercise censorship in 3 areas: 1) you have to ask permission before including one of your friends in your story, 2) no nonsense words unless you define them, and 3) no straight-out potty talk. 

The reasons for the first condition, I think, are obvious. 

I've found that requiring nonsense words to have definitions is necessary to prevent entire stories made of nothing but nonsense words, which in and of itself would not be a problem, but once a the kids realize it's a sure fire was to elicit laughs from the audience, that's pretty much all we get. Slowing them down long enough to explain what "Gaa gaa" and "blah blah" mean helps them focus on coming up with a story rather than just enjoying the prospects of simply monopolizing Teacher Tom's time.

And as anyone knows who works with young children, once the potty talk genii is out of the bottle, it's almost impossible to put back in.

One area that people sometimes suggest censorship is when it comes to violence. Many of us are uncomfortable with it, for sure, and when it comes to killing my pen always hesitates over the page, my brain wanting to engage in a discussion about the reality of killing. And sometimes I will ask a question like, "How do you think his mommy would feel about being killed?" the answer to which becomes a part of the story, but most of the time I just keep right on taking the dictation.

As you read these stories you'll, of course, notice there is a lot of getting run over and bumped and bonked. It's almost all intended in the vein of slapstick, which I've always considered to be one of the ways we humans try to have some level of mastery over the reality of pain: by laughing at it. Much of what passes for "children's entertainment" these days has been cleaned up when it comes to physical pain and violence, making it escapist, and there's certainly a place for that. But there is also a place to address pain and violence head on, to admit it's real, to acknowledge that sometimes we're the victim and sometimes we're the perpetrator, even if only by accident (bump) or even if it's just a thought that flashes through our heads as a result of strong emotion.

This first batch of stories are the last of the ones I recently uncovered from last year:

When I had a pet, and a jacket, and Teacher Tom's head. Fell off. Glasses. And then my pet ran away. And then it went in the swimming pool. And then it landed in the garbage. And then he said, "Yuck!" And then my pet went in a school. And then it get in trouble. --Alex

My story is um . . . I don't have a kitten at my house.  --Charlie L.

It's about a dark, dark night. And then the cat said, "Gee, gee, goo, goo, ga." It means he wants dinner. --Orlando

The boy went outside and he was discovering a new planet. And he was going to planet to planet. Then he found his friend inside outer space. And they played space ball. And they had a great time at outer space. --Jack

The ghost who had a pencil in his hand. The pencil walked away from the ghost. The ghost chased after the pen. The pen runned away in his tiny hole. And then a pirate ducky came and shot the pencil. The pencil dodged the bullet. And then a monster truck came and ran over the pencil and the mirrors chased after the monster truck. And then the monster truck ran over the mirrors and the mirrors broke. And then the monster truck ran over another monster truck. The monster truck climbs over the ghost and the ghost spanks his booty. --Finn V.

A bullet ran over a pirate. And then the eyes came and they flashed their eyes. And then the The-The (they want to have dinner) bonked their heads and then their toes. Then the nose snapped the nose. And then they fighted. And then the mouth came and they bited the pirate's mouth. And then the shade came and the shade went into the mirror. Then the pirates are dead. --Jack

Gaa (monster). Tire rolls down the hill. Then the kids plays with paint brushes and then she gets put in bath tub. Then the tire rolls down the hill at her house and it pushes through the door and it hits her. Then the tire breaks the house right up to the chimney. Then she falls off into some goo. And then she bounces off the goo, but then a bobcat catches her. And then he shifts her into a mud pile. Then the bobcat and kitten had dinner together at walking caa caa. --Thomas

About a skeleton. The skeleton punched down a skeleton and then another skeleton. And then another skeleton punched down another skeleton. A monster took the monster to the wall. And then that monster bumped into the wall and fell. The monster said to the other monster, "I love you, I love you, I love you." A building fell down on him. And then the monster hit down his head and pulled up his ear. The pen knocked down everyone. And then I was going to kill them. And then we didn't go back. --Lachlan

The rest of these stories are from the beginning of this school year:

Love Cat was having fun when I was at vacation and California. And I saw my grandma, and went to my daddy's apartment with my daddy. And at Jack and James' house. And then I came back to Seattle, but I was still staying in California. And after awhile came back to Seattle.  --Peter

Mommy went to somewhere really dangerous. And daddy was so scared. And when and a tiger bounced them into the sky. --Jody

The itsy bitsy spooky pumpkin. --Charlotte

The princess and the pony with pretty jewels and they played with the horses. I was the horse and Dora. --Sadie

The princess and the frog kissed each other. They played together. --Jasper

It's about a ghost pumpkin. The pumpkin runned over a monster truck. It runned over a car and a monster truck and a digger. And it runned into a mail truck. It was in the crank with the war axe. And the Grinch was in the tape. --Charlie L.

The crane bumped into a person. And the monster truck runned over a car. Then the monster came and bumped into another monster truck and the monster truck ran over a truck. Then the person came and bumped into a tiger bus. Then the another monster truck came and bumped into the monster. --Ariya

All about swords. So there is a sword with a man in it. And he ran away out of his door. And then he run over a place. Then he run over a tall building. And he ranned over a smoke chimney. And he pretended to be Santa Claus. --Charlie M.

It's about a kitty. A kitten came along. Some more kitties come. More kitties. Some more kitties came. Some more kitties came. And then there were some more kitties. --Sylvia

About a monster and a giant ate the monster. And then the monster got killed. --Dennis

So the knight went into the castle. And then the knight went into the tractor and drove over the castle. Well, the monkey went into the tree. Then the monkey didn't know what to do and then he fell down and that's the end. --Connor

If you want more information about how we tell our stories, click here. If you want to read more of our stories, here are the posts in the order of appearance:

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Anonymous said...

We live in a big military community and during my student observations I often hear young children discussing death, violence, guns and war. More than not, the teachers edit this conversations or stop them completely saying, "We don't talk about these things at school." This is a difficult topic for sure and can be very uncomfortable but I feel ignoring it altogether is not the right solution. I love the quote from Schlesinger! Thanks for sharing these stories and always your wonderful insights into the lives of our youngest citizens.

Christian Charles said...

I have a soon to be five year old boy that talks about killing bad guys. I have never talked to him about killing anyone. I have said that even we don't have the right to kill bad guys, unless we are protecting ourselves or our families. He seems to understand, and I think the idea of this, in his head, is not violent, but part of his silly play. He isn't gruesome in his talk, just to the point. He does not watch violent shows and we don't even buy him toy guns. I am a hunter, but my guns, shotgun shells, and bullets are locked up and he is never allowed to touch any of these objects. If my gun is by the door before I leave to go hunting and he sees it, he is never allowed to touch it. I told him that guns should never be used on people and that you have to respect their power. I also told him that it is always, even if you are aiming it in a safe place, a scary situation whenever you fire a gun. So, in other words, and I know this is a long way to my point, I think some kids talk about these things but would never act on them.

BSK said...

"We Don't Play With Guns Here" is a great book that touches on the subject of guns (and general violent talk/play) in school. Really, really interesting.

Of course, Vivian Gussin Paley is the maestro of story telling with kids. Her books are essential reading for this work.

For me, I am very careful about censoring the violence. I've had kids tell stories that shocked me, but were important to record to give me a better look into their understanding of the world. Sometimes, the stories were their outlets for abuse they experienced or witness, fears that children that age should not have to deal with, or other major issues in their lives. If I felt that the subject matter was too much for the class as a whole (such as one a child essentially described a sexually abusive encounter that THANKFULLY was a relay of some television he never should have been watching), I would say, "This is a really interesting story, but I'm worried it might be too scary from some of our friends. Let's put it in a secret journal so you can still share your story but we also make sure others felt safe." This helped ensure that they had an outlet, if necessary, for their stories, but also ensured that I wasn't further exposing the other children to inappropriate subject matter.