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Standards For Folklife Education

Crossing the "triviality barrier," that is, understanding and explaining why studying folklore is important, not just entertainment. "Triviality barrier" was coined by Brian Sutton-Smith in a 1970 article, "Psychology of Childlore" in _Western Folklore_.)

Nothing in culture is trivial - studying folklore involves understanding the meaning and significance of everyday commonplace things, words, etc.

Every project must answer:
1. What is its significance?
2. What is its relevance?
3. What is the impact of having studied/produced it?

No one has to justify studying math, history, and science. Folklore gives insight into our humanity. Those studies have enriched mankind for generations. Studying folklore not only allows intellectual pursuit it documents society and allows for benchmarks as civilization moves from one point to the next in its own crazy path. It rescues procedures / art / lifestyle that would otherwise be lost.

What the study of folklore can bring to a child or anyone:

1. new ways of communicating
2. cultures other than our own
3. our own culture/traditions
4. expression of feelings or ideas
5. learning problem solving techniques


Pennsylvania Standards for Folklife Education

Integrating Language Arts, Social Studies,
Arts and Science Through Student Traditions & Culture
Developed by the Pennsylvania Folklife Education Committee
Edited by Diane E. Sidener, Ph.D. Pennsylvania Alliance for Arts Education

Page 11
The Folklife Standards
are a contribution to education reform in at least three ways. First, they represent an attempt to reformulate education as a high-quality endeavor, one in which students are expected to achieve substantial learning, not merely to pass their time. Second, they are student centered, treating education as a process in which students must be fully present in all aspects of their identities, including the cultural, if they are to participate fully and in ways that are personally meaningful. Finally, folklife is interdisciplinary, incorporating oral and written language arts skills, social studies research in which even young children can engage, and all the arts disciplines.

Folklorists and educators together have determined that these standards define what students should be able to understand and demonstrate about their own participation in cultural processes by the time they graduate from twelfth grade. The associated transitional standards for grades four and eight represent the expected achievements for students at those levels.


The following forms are samples. You may use them as is or adapt them for different ages or for different types of projects. If you are archiving audio or video tapes, photographs, or other objects, signed copies of release forms giving permission for them to be used by researchers should be maintained in the archives. page 35

Sample Parent Letter page 36


Dear Parent:

We are beginning a unit of study on students' family and community traditions. Some of the topics we will be studying are:

[List major topics]

Your child may be asking you for information on some of these topics, or may be talking with other family members or friends. The purpose of these projects is to help your child to better understand his/her heritage and community.

As part of this unit, your child will be learning certain research and documentation skills, including interviewing skills. Respecting people's right to privacy is an important part of such research, and we will be working with your child to develop respectful ways to interview while respecting people's rights.

I hope that you will support your child as he/she works on these assignments. You are welcome to call me with any questions.



[Teacher's name]


The following form is appropriate for grades K-4, for projects in which interviews are being recorded only for student projects and not for public presentation of any kind.



I hereby give and grant to ___________________________________
( Name of interviewer)

of __________________________________
School the tape-recorded interview and its contents listed below, donated for education purposes.

Sample Interview Release Form, grades 5-12 - page 39

The following form is appropriate for grades 5-12, and may be used for interview, documentary and archival purposes. The form should be filled out completely before signatures are requested.

Printed Name of Interviewee

Signature of Interviewee

Address of Interviewee

Date of Interview

Date signed by Interviewee


Project Name

Date of interview




Tape number


Conversation Partner's Name





Telephone number

Date of birth
Ethnic heritage--be specific (optional)
Materials are to be used for:
Scholarly research Publication or exhibition Educational purposes
Deposit in archives of:

I hereby give my permission for the following activities for the purposes described above:


Sound recording and transcript of interview
Photographs and reproduction of same
Video recording
Use of my name in conjunction with the above



Ballad : A traditional story in song.

Belief : That which a folk group feels is true, real, positive, negative, and/or possible. Beliefs may be based on religious tradition, personal experiences, or the worldview of occupational, ethnic or other folk groups. Examples of beliefs include: the efficacy of prayer; the occupational belief among loggers that it is bad luck to start a new job on a Friday.

Children's Rhymes : Oral traditions of childhood, consisting of rhymes and chants to accompany games and to comment on the current events of the day.

Community : A group of people, often of a specific locale, who share a common social, historical, regional or cultural heritage.

Context : Circumstances (physical, cultural, historical, emotional) which surround and often shape events and situations.

Culture :
1. The total way of life in which a group of people participate, including its customs, values, attitudes, beliefs, expressive behaviors, institutions and worldview. Culture is a dynamic process that is learned through many means and which is always changing.

2. A group of people defined by their shared way of life. A culture includes many different groups who participate in different aspects of its life and who are defined by such attributes as gender, age, marital status, occupation and class. Communities and folk groups are local entities that are often part of larger cultural groups.

Cultural Group : A group of people who share a common culture, such as an occupational group of steel workers, or Americans.

Cultural Traditions : Traditions particular to cultural groups, such as "shunning" in Amish culture or fireworks on the Fourth of July for many Americans.

Customs : Customs are the ingredients of traditions: Example: many people celebrate the traditional holiday of Thanksgiving. It is the custom on that day to have a large family meal consisting of turkey and/or ham and other home cooked foods.

Elite Culture : Customs, beliefs, skills, and practices acquired through institutional direction most often associated with education or high status. Example: seeing a doctor to prescribe an antibiotic rather than using a home remedy, or debutante balls.

Ethnography : The description of individual cultural groups and cultural processes based on intensive fieldwork research and documentation.

Expressive Behavior : Stylized activity that is approved by an individual's folk group. For example, jumping rope is one of the many expressive behaviors of children.

Expressive Culture : The range of stylized expression within a group that has withstood the test of time: story, song, art, material culture and craft.

Fieldwork : The methods and procedures used to identify and document traditional culture through direct observation of traditional culture and cultural processes.

Folk Arts : The traditional forms of expression of folk in their folk groups, that the group feels are at once beautiful, useful, and representative of the group's beliefs. Folk arts encompass all artistic disciplines.

Folk Group : A group of people who regularly meet together and share at least one thing in common, such as ethnicity, language, occupation, age, family, gender, region or religion. Examples include Scouts, choir, clubs, cousins, gangs, group of friends, sports team, Sunday School class, and a union local.

Folklife : The skills, knowledge, beliefs, and practices learned through observation and imitation of other members of one's folk groups.

 Folk Song : Oral statements accompanied by music which are created and perpetuated within folk groups to serve such purposes as celebration, entertainment, protest, and the expression of belief.

Folk music : Traditional and culture-specific patterns of sound controlled by pitch, tempo, and mood.

Foodways : The traditional processes, contexts and beliefs involved in the creation and consumption of a folk group's traditional foods.

Genre : Categories of traditional culture. In folklife study these categories are usually divided into oral tradition, material culture, customary practices, beliefs and musical traditions.

 Legend : A story set in the recent or historical past that is believed to be true by the narrator and the listener, often involving well-known historical figures.

Master Folklife Practitioner : An individual who is well respected in his or her community or folk group for traditionally learned skills. Examples of master practitioners include: good cooks,

Master Folk/Traditional Artist : An individual whose work in one or more traditional arts is considered exemplary: a community's best quilt maker(s), a master of Hmong embroidery, or a well-known wood carver.

Material Culture : Forms of traditional culture created from physical materials, such as cloth, wood, and food.

Oral Histories : Oral interviews conducted for the purpose of gathering historical information not found in manuscript sources.

Performance : The use of traditional culture for specific ends. For example, telling a story based on personal experience to illustrate a point to the listener is a performance of a story.

Personal Experience Narratives : Stories told by individuals about experience(s) they or another have had. Many of the stories told within families are the personal experience narratives of particular family members, whether of experiences of previous generations, humorous stories involving distinctive traits of an individual, or narratives about remembered events.

Popular Culture : Products of culture that are introduced for their commercial appeal, such as video games, fads in fashion, and hair styles.

Proverbs: Brief, often humorous expressions which state an approach to a problem: "An apple a day, keeps that doctor away."

Tradition : Folklife that a folk group feels is so important that members continue to practice it and pass it on within the group.

Tradition Bearer : An individual who practices skills and beliefs passed on to him or her within family, community, or workplace.

Urban Legends: Legends that deal with phenomena of the modern age, including murder, rape, animals found in food, and cooking in microwave ovens, many of which are transmitted through the mass media as well as traditional oral means.

Vernacular Architecture: The style of building traditionally learned and used within a particular community.

Work Song: Songs sung about work or used to aid in work (especially by establishing rhythms to coordinate communal work), such as the sea chantey and cowboy song.

 Worldview: The intangible aspect of culture which provides order, value and meaning to the experiences of its members. Worldview includes basic ordering principles, core beliefs, values and attitudes for the culture as a whole. Worldview is often embodied in a group's folklife, through numbering and gender attributions (ordering principles) and through other symbolic means which convey essential beliefs, values and attitudes.

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