WALLY'S STORIES by Vivian Gussin Paley


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Paley's anecdotal record of a kindergarten class is a reflective examination of how five-year-olds think and of how one child's well-developed imagination can catalyze a class. Wally arrived with a familiar history of disruptive behavior, but he quickly established himself as a pivotal figure, a person of character whose nifty explanations and vivid fantasies often served as springboards for discussion or dramatic play. Paley's classes had always acted out fairy tales and picture books; Wally's stories were good enough to act out too, and other children were inspired by his lead. Paley makes some crisp observations about kindergarten dramas, noting similar thematic preoccupations but strong characterization differences between girls and boys (""the meanest, ugliest character in a girl's story goes on picnics and keeps his teeth clean""). Moreover, she makes this community of five-year-olds more comprehensible by using anecdotes to represent their priorities and standards of justice, to define issues of safety, and to review their apparent acceptance of logical inconsistencies. The tooth fairy is a hovering presence here, questions of propriety come and go, and some reactions even surprise the teacher: change for a dollar is more, emotionally, than four quarters when each child can identify his or her own quarter. Wally emerges as something of a problem-solver, and the supporting players make contributions of their own. The teacher also shares her own part in this complex process, and some recurrent dilemmas: to cross-examine or remain silent, to bring out the ruler or let the children invent it. Much of what Paley has to say echoes the work of others--Kohlberg on moral development, Fraiberg on magical thinking, Gareth Matthews most recently on children and philosophy. But she has fresh insights to offer from this particular arena as she reminds us that magic gives children power in a world where adults seem to have the answers. A trenchant informal analysis from the author of White Teacher (1979).

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1981
ISBN: 067494593X
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press