The Oral Tradition We Have All Joyfully Perpetuated

About a week ago, The Atlantic had an article that answered a question that has been nagging me for quite a few years – are kids still passing down the silly, nonsense jokes, hand clapping rhymes, jump rope chants, etc that we inherited as kids or has technology basically diverted their attention from those experiences?

Apparently I am not the only one who has thought this, because in the latter part of the article that exact question is addressed.

Adults, it seems, are in a perpetual state of worry that Kids These Days just don’t play like they used to, probably because of whatever technology was most recently introduced. Roud and Willett both independently brought this up to me and insisted that it’s not true. As Willett’s research shows, technology and media do influence kids’ play—but that doesn’t mean play itself is in jeopardy.

To be honest, I found myself surprised to care so much because my sister and her friends would drive me crazy repeatedly clapping out the story of Miss Suzy and her baby Tiny Tim. But as I got older I realized that these games are a tie that binds generations together. Cootie shots, cootie catchers, applying and peeling glue off the palm of your hands, sketching out that blocky S on your notebook, all comprise a type of oral tradition whose origins are difficult to trace.

Technology does morph some of the games and occasionally adds new bits of cherished lore. I am pretty sure my grandparents weren’t typing 5-8-0-0-8 into calculators and inverting the device to spell BOOBS. That is the first thing the article validates as a piece of cultural heritage. (Though knowing my maternal grandfather, that is probably pretty tame compared to some of the things he did.)

On the other hand, making up a game based on the Weeping Angels episode of Dr. Who shares similarities to games played at least 120 years ago.

Apparently, this is an aspect of our lives which perpetuates itself in a type of decentralized democracy:

Our nostalgia for our own childhood shapes what kids get exposed to. But Steve Roud, a British folklorist and the author of The Lore of the Playground, emphasized to me that folklore is by its nature not handed down by an authority. It is of the people, by the people—even if those people are children.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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