Wednesday, March 08, 2023

That's What It's All About

It recently occurred to me that I've done the Hokey Pokey on four continents. Impressive, no?

This may not make me the world's leading expert on the classic song and dance, nor does it necessarily mean that I believe that that's what it's all about, but it does give me, shall we say, authority to speak to its variations.

In the UK and Australia they call it the Hokey Cokey. In some places, I've even heard it as Hokey Tokey. An Icelandic friend informed me that they learned it as Boogie Woogie. 

The basic idea of the song and dance tends to hold true across borders, with everyone in a circle, putting in and taking out body parts accordingly. When adults lead the song, it's pretty predictable: right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot, etc. When children lead, we include tongues, teeth, butts, and debates over whether or not it's fair, in a mixed gender groups, to involve vulvas and penises.

The Hokey Pokey dance itself is all over the board. I learned it as a combination of pointing fingers, swinging hips, and a full revolution of the body. But I've danced it with open palms, jazz hands, jumping up and down, and multiple rotations until one feels a bit dizzy. I've held hand with others as we've danced. Some version called for running in and out. Some versions include clapping along to the words, "That's what it's all about," one clap for each syllable. I've even witnessed participants clapping behind their backs. And then there is the shouted "Hey!" at the end, which in some places comes out as "Woo!" or "Yay!" or "Whoa!" It's pretty much universal to finish each verse by throwing your hands up into the air, but there have even been variations on that.

Now, in all honesty, I prefer the version I learned as a boy and taught to children for two decades. When I'm in another country, I could, I suppose, try to persuade the others into doing it my way. Or I could just press my lips together judgmentally and go about doing it my way. Or I could spark an argument over the "right way." Of course, I don't do any of those things. What I do is adapt. If the group is shouting "Whoa!" that's what I shout. No one tells me to shout "Whoa!" I learn it by following along, just as I suppose I learned the Hokey Pokey in the first place.

I didn't learn the Hokey Pokey from flash cards. I didn't learn it from direct instruction. I learned it in the way that social learning has always taken place: by being in the company of others, observing, participating, and, eventually doing as the Romans. This is how I learned, in northern Germany, that shopkeepers there found it objectionable (and "so American") to enter their shop smiling and chirping "Guten Morgan!" It's why I just go ahead and jaywalk while in New York City, but not anywhere else. It's how I learned to pump gas, engage in polite small talk, and choose which urinal to use in a public men's room. Indeed, it seems that most of what I've learned in life, and certainly most of what I use on a day-to-day basis, has come from simply living among my fellow humans and doing whatever version of the Hokey Pokey they're doing. That's what it's all about.

I've never done the Hokey Pokey in South America. I wonder how they do it there.


It takes a village to raise a child. As preschool educators, we don't just educate children, but their families as well. For the past 20 years, I've been working in a place that puts the tri-cornered relationship of child-parent-educator at the center, and over that time I've learned a great deal about how to work with families to create the kind of village every child needs and deserves. I'm proud to announce that I've assembled what I've learned into a 6-part e-course called Partnering With Parents in which I share my best thinking on how educators can and should make allies of the parents of the children we teach. (Click this link to register and to learn more.) Discounts are available for groups. The one and only 2023 cohort just started on Thursday, so catching up will be easy. Please join us!

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