Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bed Time Stories

by Michael Han
“In the great green room, there was a telephone, And a red balloon, And a picture of the cow jumping over the moon.”
Good night!

            These are the first words of Margaret Wise’s Good Night Moon, words I am sure all of us have spoken at some point in our lives. Simplistic and clean, this book is a favorite of parents and children alike. But is it really as clean and simple as it seems? Shirley Brice Heath’s piece, What No Bedtime Story Means: Narrative Skills at Home and School examines the commotion that the tradition of the bedtime story (or in some cases, lack thereof) leaves behind.
            I am positive we all have some sort of memory related to the bedtime story—or story time in general. I remember curling up in my parents’ bed, between the two of them. My mother usually read to me, as my dad snored at my side. My favorites were Chika Chika Boom Boom or Maurice Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice (it got to the point where I knew every line of both book by heart). I would lie there and listen to my mother read me these stories, and like Heath describes, listen intently to her questions. “What month comes after January?” (Chicken Soup with Rice is about the months of the year) or “what month were you born in?” she would ask, and I would answer. After reading this piece, these instances, these precious moments took on a new, less innocent meaning as I realized I they represented my gradual induction into society. I was being hailed as a subject (in keeping with our running ‘this is so SCA’ joke, this post is going to become very SCA, very soon).

          In Norma González’s essay, Children in the Eye of the Storm: Language Socialization and Language Ideologies, this process is addressed as seen in formal education settings. González cites Louis Althusser’s concept of ideological state apparatuses (ISAs)—societal institutions that further perpetuate dominant ideologies. Examples include the government, religious institutions and finally, schools. It is within these ISAs that subjects are formed—they are hailed and interpellated (164). She quotes Althusser who describes how ideology functions to ‘recruit subjects… transform[ing] the
individuals into subjects” (164). By responding to hailing, an individual is “recruited,’ and through this “identities are formed as subjects of the ideological apparatuses. “There is no room for the individual self outside of ideological formations” (164). This is clearly demonstrated in Heath’s description of bed time story telling. She describes “scaffolding” dialogue, when the mother points and asks a question to her child, who then responds to the question. This is met with verbal response, and “before the age of 2, the child is socialized into the initiation-reply-evaulation sequences repeatedly described as the central structural feature of classroom lessons” (320). Teachers ask their pupils questions, who respond and are evaluated based on their response. Furthermore, Heath writes “children learn not only learn how to take meaning from books, but also how to talk about it. In doing the latter, they repeatedly practice routines that parallel those of classroom interaction” (324). Bed time stories prepare children for schooling, and as we all know how moldable children are, this cherished childhood past time also can affect a student’s academic performance. The majority of the paper focuses on this interpellation process, specifically how different sociocultural (specifically from the three separate towns of Maintown, Trackton and Roadville) groups hail their children, and the implications this has in the classroom.
            Luckily for us, Heath consolidates her findings (pp. 337-339).  At home, Maintown are representative of mainstream families in that they maintain and establish, labeling and what-explanations during story time. This is crucial for the construction of knowledge in these children from preschool years into normal schooling. Furthermore, these children are able to draw connections, visualize patterns and compare/contrast between old and new themes. Heath writes “thus for these children, the bedtime story is simply an early link in a long chain of interrelated patterns of taking meaning from the environment” (337). In relation to this these children learn that written language “may represent not only descriptions of real events, but decontextualized logical propositions” (337)—meaning they learn to not only examine what is merely presented to them on the page, but what may be hidden in the text, like the lessons from the readings that can be applied to real world situations. It is also interesting to note that Heath mentions how both Roadville and Trackton students are not as successful academically as Maintown children.

         For Roadville children, they are provided with “labels, features, and what-explanations, and [are] prescribe[d] listening  and performing behaviors for preschoolers” (337), essentially all the same foundational tools Maintown homes provide their children. The two towns deviate however in that Roadville adults do not reinforce the ways in which the meaning of books may may be related to other aspects of their children’s environments. Decontextualization is  not encouraged (337), and parents  amongst other things, do not make any “analytic statements or assert universal truths, except those
Bedtime stories-- more significant than we thought?
related to their religious faith” (337), Consequently, children learn to “look for a specific moral  in stories and to expect that story to fit their facts of reality explicitly” (337). This effectively narrows their  point of views and critical thinking skills. Trackton, the third town, diverges from the other two towns. It is a town where there are no bed time stories (which ironically sounds like the plot of a children’s story in itself). Instead, Trackton children are immersed in various types of social interactions-- they are held, fed and talked about (337). They are not provided with “labels or names of attributes of items and events pointed out for them and they are asked for reason-explanations, not what-explanations” (338) and as a result are able to recognize patterns but are unable to explicitly indicate aspects that are similar between two items or situations (338).
            These developed traits carry over into the school setting. Because each town’s children develop differently, they enter schools and all have different educational needs. Roadville children, for example, because of their habits “learned in book reading… have not continued for them through other activities” (338) need to have practice in expanding these skills into other arenas of thought and action. Most importantly, they need experience to delineate the differences between “discourse strategies and structures” (e.g. narratives of real life events versus imaginary stories). Trackton kids, in comparison must be able to retain their story telling skills, but must also gain the ability “to recount factual events in a straightforward way and recognize appropriate occasions for reason-explanations and affective expressions” (339). These differences in development are important to acknowledge—as addressed in the González reading.
            This study is very interesting, particularly because all of us have gone through a similar process. This presents a sort of identity crisis—what if I am like a Trackton kid and not like a Maintown kid??? Although I am only kidding, this does lead to very interesting points we should consider. First, can this study be applied to every household? Is it even plausible to say that every family fits the models presented by the Maintown, Roadville and Trackton examples? Is it possible to typify child rearing to three different examples? I do not think so, BUT the study does make a very good case for an aspect of education that is often overlooked—students have individual needs because they learn at different paces and through different means (which may also have to deal with how they were raised), and this is something that should be addressed.
            Furthermore, is it plausible to attribute preschool educational development solely to bed time stories? I am certain there are other instances during these formative years in which children learn and develop these skills (Heath alludes to several of them). Although Heath makes a good case that story time can have a huge influence on development, it would have been interesting to learn more in regards to how each town differed (i.e. in regards to socioeconomics, etc.). Along the same vein, why did these three towns deviate so much in the way kids were raised? How was each town encapsulated in a bubble that allowed for them to raise their kids the same way, but differently than neighboring towns?

 The Importance of Reading to Your Children
is a website I found via extensive googling. This one particular author elucidates the benefits of reading, BUT is not aware of the issues that are present throughout this reading. While reading with your children is important, Heath makes it apparent that how you read with your children is just as important as well. Do parents realize this? We know every parent has high aspirations for their children, yet is it possible to propose a “right” way of reading bed time stories, an occasion that is particularly unique and special between each child and parent?
        This reading was written in the early 80s as well, long before the proliferation of modern media as a learning tool (Sesame Street aside). How would Heath respond to the likes of Dora the Explorer or Blue (of Blue’s Clues fame)?
These are both shows that prompt questions to its preschool audiences, making them think and respond. Furthermore, they teach valuable lessons with morals. For example Swiper, a rascally, cleptomaniacal fox, is presented as a metaphorical foil to the pure and kind-hearted Dora. As the antagonist of the series, Swiper is constantly trying to steal from Dora, who then is able to defeat him and retrieve whatever item is stolen. This enforces the lesson that “stealing is wrong” (and that I watch too much Nick Jr. for my own good).
            A major qualm about children and television is that it does not promote creativity, yet both shows seem to do so. Dora the Explorer features fantastical settings and talking animals, while Blue’s Clues features anthropomorphic furniture and…a blue dog. Both programs heavily feature song and dance as well, and encourage their audiences to sing along with them. With this being said, I recognize that for every great, educational television program for kids, there is a plethora of equally terrible ones out there. It is important to recognize, despite all of these things though, that the face of preschool education has been drastically affected by the use of media, and these changes must also be taken into
account when kids enter school. This point adds so many different layers to Heath’s discussion—what about children who do not have access to these educational programs? What about children who read less and watch more television?

This clip is demonstrative of all the above points-- it goes as far as to help in labeling every day objects (effectively serving as the role of a parent during story time).
            Good night noises everywhere coos Wise’s legendary story time book. Are the noises really asleep, though? Although kids may out grow this book (and bed time stories altogether), its impact extends far beyond after this card-stock paged book is closed. Good Night Moon is a book that is so pervasive in American Society, yet we never seem to realize (at least until reading Heath’s piece) that within this context, there are so many different layers. Did you ever think that a story as innocent and simple like Good Night Moon could be read incorrectly?  I think, however, that the way we read to our kids should not be changed—reading is a special moment in all of our lives, even if it is done incorrectly. It allows for the special bonds to form between child, parent and book. We all have unique experiences with story time, and in promoting a “correct” way of reading, we run the risk of losing these memories forever.

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