Through the Schoolhouse Door: Folklore, Community, Curriculum affirms the work of the past and forwards work to the future in folklore and education. It is an excellent primer for those who want to learn about the field. Its diverse case studies focus on some of the main concerns folklorists working in education are confronting in their work today. The book consists of a foreword by writing educator Bonnie Sunstein, an introduction to the field by editors Lynne Hamer and Paddy Bowman, nine articles on folklore and education projects, a conclusion by Hamer and Bowman, a section of works cited, and finally an appendix of selected folklore and education resources.
The case studies are framed by Sunstein’s observations that students bring a wide array of traditional practices and community experiences to their writing. Hamer and Bowman flesh this position out with informed sketches on the components of folklore and brief forays into the history of education and the history of folk arts in education programming, beginning with the projects funded by the National Endowment for the Arts in the mid-1970s. The case studies start with Bowman’s personal experience. She recounts how her daughter’s kindergarten teacher was unfamiliar with the cultures of northern Virginia and how she worked to remedy the situation. The book moves from kindergarten to graduate school, and it ends with a description of a university-community center project partnership Lynne Hamer discusses as an example of folklore in education within graduate study.
The nine case studies feature a variety of approaches and definitions of folklore and education, highlighting the usual placement of work in language arts, social studies, math, and science curriculum, each with a twist that engages the visceral as well as the intellectual and [End Page 111] technical. Geographically, the case studies take place in the South, the Southeast, and the Midwest. It would have been interesting to have had a broader geographic representation.
The work of folklore and education is demanding. It requires an ethnographic eye to learn the macro of the community and school environment and the micro of the classroom as well as the domain of teacher and student. It requires an understanding of what teachers and students are supposed to do. It demands respect of the macro and the micro, ruled, more often than not, by the school bell and the lesson plans of teachers, and the goals, objectives, and outcomes outlined in curricula.
Work in folklore and education is highlighted by the tradition-bearer, an individual or group who comes to a school to share traditionally learned skills. The presentation may be done in an assembly format, in the classroom over a period of time, or on a field trip to the tradition-bearer’s work space. The teacher, the folklorist, and the tradition-bearer work together to make the most out of the experience of the tradition-bearer’s visit, which, in turn, reaches into the student population and strikes a certain amount of awareness of cultural diversities and similarities. These activities must, in one form or another, conform to what are called “curriculum standards”: a range of accomplishments on the state and national levels that a student must achieve, in theory, to move on to the next grade.
The studies in Through the Schoolhouse Door hearken to an earlier time in the evolution of education marked by the thinking of John Dewey. Dewey espoused the idea that learning took place through an encounter with a “genuine difficulty,” a challenge encountered and dealt with using possessed knowledge in order to emerge with new knowledge and experience. The overarching genuine difficulty for teachers and students in Schoolhouse Door was how to create means for knowing about and knowing traditional cultures and practices in ways that would promote a variety of personal and academic understandings. Each contribution in this volume reveals ways of dealing with genuine difficulties by exposing students to cultural expressions that have withstood the tests of time. The chapters focus on projects that range...