ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO: The Secret Education of American Children by Mary & Herbert Knapp

ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO: The Secret Education of American Children

Email this review


In 1959 Iona and Peter Opie published The Language and Lore of Schoolchildren, a scholarly study of the oral traditions of British children. Mary and Herbert Knapp have completed a similar study of their American counterparts, which is more ambitious in its attention to the functions of these traditions, less thorough in its search for variants and sources. They consider the social significance of chants, cheers, insults, jump rope rhymes, jokes, and superstititions, pointing out important distinctions (some jeers are said more for tone of voice than for message), noting short term trends and venerable traditions. They maintain that many of these expressions and practices help children overcome personal anxieties in socially acceptable ways and learn the expectations of the peer group. They include frequently ignored phenomena such as fartlore (mentioning the unmentionable) and Polack jokes (more like the old ""moron"" jokes than an ethnic slur) as well as peculiarly American examples such as telephone pranks (assuming adult roles) and Wacky Packs (parodying the commercial world). The Knapps, who acknowledge that their work is not comprehensive, are nonetheless quick to generalize from a relatively small, slightly skewed sample; although the data comes from 47 states, a surprisingly large proportion of their evidence comes from Indiana and the Panama Canal Zone. Recognizing the limits of such data, one can nevertheless appreciate what they have collected and value their attempt to classify an enormous amount of information into a useful reference.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1976
Publisher: Norton