NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Spring 1962
THE PLACE OF FOLKLORE IN EDUCATION
THE amazing growth of interest in American folklore in
the past fifty years is one of the most significant and hopeful
signs of the times. At the same time that a growing army
of scholars and amateur collectors is hard at work gathering folklore
of many varieties, singers and instrumentalists are also bringing
folksongs and music to an ever-widening audience. This cultural
movement that has come into its own in the past decade has
important implications for the schools, all the way from first grade
to the graduate seminar.
This burgeoning activity around the collection and use of
folklore is not an accident of history. It comes significantly at a
time when we have been transformed from a rural culture to
one that is mainly urban and suburban. There was a time when
a large majority of the American people spent their lives in one
place, near the earth, surrounded by neighbors who made up an
organic community. We are fast becoming a nation on wheels and
wings. This change, along with the growth of the mass media
of communication, has created a culture of the displaced persons,
removed from the roots that gave life a sense of continuity. As
we become alienated from our roots we are being fed with a sterile
and empty culture of commercialism, epitomized by the wasteland
of TV, with its exploitation of violence and lust as staples
I see this turning back to the traditional folk culture as the
expression of dissatisfaction with the spiritual nourishment of
the times. A look at the quality of our folk culture will show
why at this time folk music records are a flourishing business and why hundreds of young people are learning to play their guitars
and sing folksongs collected all the way from Alabama to Indonesia.
The folk culture of our heritage was developed at a time
when men and women believed in themselves and their destiny.
It blossomed in the age of homespun, which unlocked the creativity
that is a potential of all people. In the homespun days the
sense of clean and functional form was not the monopoly of a
few esthetes, but was a part of a way of life. A feeling for the
beauty of simple form went into the shaving of a butter paddle,
a flail swivel or a sap yoke; it was also present in the work of the
housewife, stitching her patterned quilt or hooking a rug. This
was indeed a do-it-yourself culture. Recreation had to be homemade,
and story-telling flourished around the stove of the general
store, in the frontier saloon, the foc’sle of a whaler, or in the bunkhouse
of a lumber camp. In my twenty years of collecting varieties
of folklore in the Catskill region, I have been greatly impressed
over and over again with the widespread evidences of the
creativity of what we used to call the common man—the sense
of form and the artistic pride that went into the carving of a useful
wooden utensil, the singing of a song, or the telling of an
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