Education in the UK

Essays have been submitted and classes have ended, but I know my education at King’s College London will continue upon my return to the United States. During my time at King’s College London, I have noticed a difference in paradigms for education between the US and UK.

In the UK, education encourages independent thinking and creative ideas. Students in my class seemed to have a passion for the course, not just a thirst for an A! In the US, I often find students, including myself, can be overly pedantic. By focusing on perfection, we forget that the world of academia is much like a wonderland. You have strange and wonderful characters, and the ability to learn about anything you desire to then create a utopia for your mind regardless of your current setting. Keeping with the use of literary terms, I plan to be a dynamic character, not a stock character, in the classroom upon my return to my institution in the US, and I will encourage others to do the same.

By meeting with students from a variety of countries, I not only have an amazing group of friends but also a new appreciation for diversity. I loved listening to the different perspectives of my classmates. I often found myself in awe in my class as I thought to myself, “How wonderful is it that a group of 24 students congregated at 9:00 a.m. to discuss literature!” I felt so lucky to be in the classroom each day, and I will be eager to continue my studies once the new academic year begins. I hope to take that positive mentality home with me and approach education with an even greater sense of appreciation.

As evident by my effusive language above, my favorite part of each day in London was walking to class with my fellow Fulbright Summer Institute participants and listening to beautifully delivered lectures by my professor. My professor has inspired me to be bold, to speak up, to acknowledge the gaps in language in which the truth resides.

It is now 5 a.m. in London, and my final Friday is just beginning. Though I leave London tomorrow, I am comforted knowing my love of this city and my love of education will never leave me.

Sending smiles from London,

Kassie

Games Can Be Educational Too

Today was maybe the most random, most fun class we have had in the last three weeks. We played a series of games that related to the material we have studied. First, we were sorted randomly into Harry Potter-themed Houses. I was assigned to Gryffindor. (Chanting “Not Slytherin, not Slytherin, not Slytherin” while I selected my random slip of paper apparently worked.)

We started with a quiz filled with trivia from the materials we’ve read since the beginning of the course. Within our Houses, we racked our minds for the obscure details, names of authors, and things we should have remembered from those long ago readings. At the end of the quiz (Round One), Hufflepuff was in first place, Gryffindor in second, Ravenclaw in third, and Slytherin in last (which we all secretly celebrated).

Round Two was a game involving Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. This game pitted two Houses against each other. One person from each of the two teams went up one at a time and ate a bean. When they had correctly guessed what the flavor was (whispered to and verified by a moderator), they had to turn to the class and try to describe the flavor so that we could guess it. Both teams could guess at once, and whichever guessed it correctly first got the point. We had flavors like marshmallow, rotten egg, earwax, watermelon, boogers, and black pepper.

Round Three was charades. The person acting had to portray a character from one of our readings, and, of course, could not speak or use sound effects. The first House to guess the character correctly got the point. Characters to make an appearance included Tinkerbell, Hedwig, an Oompa Loompa, and Hagrid.

At the end of the day, Hufflepuff came out on top, Ravenclaw in second, Gryffindor in third, and Slytherin in last place. (Hey, as long as Gryffindor beat Slytherin, it was a good day).

These games challenged our memories, our ability to work in groups, to communicate clearly and efficiently with others, organize activities, delegate tasks to the people most suited to them, and to compete in a friendly and respectful manner.

All in all, for our last day in an actual classroom, it was awesome.

Transformations of the Transgressive, Personal, and Magical Sort

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

-from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden,” a deceptively innocent tale. Many scholars contend that the garden represents whiteness and suggests the benefits of European imperialism, as the protagonist’s health improves as she spends more time in the English garden.

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Changing Outfits and Confusing Gender in Children’s Literature

Dear Readers,

My name is Kassie, and I am a 2015 Fulbright Summer Institute Participant. I am delighted to be in London thanks to the Fulbright Commission. When I return from my studies at King’s College London, I will begin my sophomore year as an undergraduate at Washington and Lee University. Currently, I intend to major in English and journalism with a minor in poverty and human capability studies. In addition to these interests, I also enjoy discussing social justice issues surrounding class and gender. I will discuss a similar topic below:

While lost in London, I look at the fashion. I marvel at the outfits, the variety and diversity, appreciating every presentation, each an independent declaration of self.

Put simply, in London, anything worn with confidence goes. It seems, however, that this rule applies only to adults. Unlike adults who have the freedom to take risks with fashion, children often have limited choices. I have noticed siblings are typically dressed alike and, similarly, all of the children I have seen walking in queues wear uniforms. After doing a little research on children’s fashion in the UK, I’ve found these observations to be a common theme. Note: The articles that support my observations are linked herein.

It can be argued that clothing both reflects and constructs identity. When analyzing children’s literature through the optics of gender theory, an objective for the Wonderland: 100 Years of Children’s Literature course, important is the role of clothing throughout the works.

In the timeless tale, Little Red Riding Hood, clothing influences gender identities. Though different versions of the story exist, each with its own twist, a commonality remains: in each retelling, the wolf puts on the grandmother’s clothes and then assumes not only status as a female but also the grandmother’s identity.

The ease with which the grandmother’s identity is adopted by the wolf speaks to the importance of clothing in announcing, marking, and constructing gender. In the genre of children’s literature especially, this practice is problematic. I will use my knowledge from a psychology course I took freshman year titled, Principles of Human Development, to support my assertion that mismatching (pun intended) clothing and gender is problematic.

To understand the danger of attaching gender identity to clothing, the development of gender identity need be explored. Research shows that gender identity develops early in life. At about one year of age, children can differentiate between males and females, typically using voices and hair length as key identifiers. It is not until age two that “gender labeling” begins. Gender labeling is guided by the stereotypes present in our society, the idea that boys and girls should play with different toys, have particular characteristics, and, in adulthood, choose certain occupations. Important to gender labeling in childhood is identification by clothing because children have yet to develop “gender constancy.”

Termed by Kohlberg in 1966, gender constancy is the understanding that gender is fixed and does not change over time. Before children develop an understanding of gender constancy, put simply, the idea that sex cannot be changed as easily as an outfit, traditional gender roles are already being taught, followed, and respected.

Stories largely create the schemas through which children understand the world around them. Since gender constancy develops between the ages of two and seven, the stories read to children at a young age need be mindful of the impact clothing has on gender and identity. Children should construct identities independent of gender roles to avoid limiting personal choice in adulthood. In the canon of children’s literature, stories like Little Red Riding Hood should inspire creativity – not reinforce cultural norms – to promote a progressive world in which children’s dreams are supported instead of being determined, and typically for females thwarted, by traditional gender roles.

Hoping we will choose to challenge cultural norms and change the world,

Kassie

Oxford Past and Present

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Hello all!

I’m excited to follow Jessica’s lovely post with one of my own. My name is Emily, and I’m a 2015 Fulbright Student from the University of Virginia where I’m majoring in Art History and Public Policy with a minor in French. Since I’m not an English major like my other Fulbright friends, I haven’t had too much of an opportunity to take literature courses in college, which is something I’ve really missed, so I’m really excited to have a chance these next few weeks to read and discuss great authors and works.

One of the best things about studying children’s literature in the UK is the unparalleled opportunity we have to learn on-site from the landscapes, people, architecture, and cities that actually inspired the authors we’re studying. Last Friday, we were lucky enough to take an afternoon excursion to Oxford University with our wonderful tutor, Victoria.

After marveling at the timeless, deceptively quaint feel of the famous eleventh-century university town, full of creamy-white limestone buildings and grassy patches divided by narrow pebble paths, we met Elizabeth, our tour guide, for a special “literary tour” of Oxford.

Earlier in class on Friday, we had learned about the many famous authorial products who studied and taught at Oxford University in the early 1900s. The most famous of these writers made up an exclusive literary club called the “Inklings” and included J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. They read and edited each other’s work and encouraged each other to delve deeper into their fantasy works.

Oxford’s most famous twentieth-century writer, however, is none other than Lewis Carroll, a professor of mathematics at Christ Church College and the writer of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He wrote the story for Alice Liddell, the eight-year-old daughter of the Dean of the college at the time, and based the setting and characters on the people and landmarks of Oxford. High up on the wall of the Christ Church dining hall, we spotted the “Alice Window,” a beautiful pane of stained glass that contains golden medallions with the faces of Lewis Carroll and Alice, along with small figures of the Dodo Bird and the Queen of Hearts. It was exciting to see hidden reminders of the more recent literary past buried within the musty, deliciously old dining hall.

As we exited the dining hall, we passed the stairs used in the first Harry Potter movie to lead up to the sorting hat. It was perfect timing; within a mere few yards, we had traversed the centuries of Oxford’s venerable history to arrive at the true birth of children’s literature with Lewis Carroll in the early twentieth century and finally at today’s canonical children’s series of Harry Potter. That in itself is the magic of Oxford, and of England at large; though centuries of history burst out of every nook and cranny, every crack in the cobblestoned streets, modern writers and thinkers don’t just rest complacently on the shoulders of their venerable historical counterparts; instead, they are inspired by their past to pave the beauty of the future.

We look forward to channeling that sentiment as we embark on our own creative journey through London.

 

 

 

Crisis at Strand Campus

London: Day 8

What a day today has been! While this day began much like any other–getting to class and grabbing our caffeine fix in the morning–it took an interesting turn in the afternoon. But hold on, we will get to that. (A good writer must build suspense!)

Class today was centered around “origin stories,” a fantastic topic because origin stories remind me of greek myths. I love how authors weave backstories and cleverly tie in details to make the story feel more real. Our readings for today were about “how the whale got its throat” and “how the whale became.” Both stories were entertaining, but I enjoyed the second story more. It depicted God in a very humanistic way–showing his shortcomings and his inability to overcome the blossoming of the enormous whale. In class, we discussed how this depiction shed God in a more sympathetic light. Rather than being this man who condemns people to hell, he was a humorous and light character.

During lecture, we also learned about a theory called the “signifying monkey” which I found very interesting. I mean, with a title like that, who wouldn’t be intrigued? The theory mostly concerned how African Americans use language in a different manner than Caucasians. African Americans often use language with double meanings and veil their meanings with trickery. This theory sparked a very interesting rap song by Rudy Ray Moore which our tutor read aloud. (If anyone was wondering, it IS quite amusing to hear a rap song read to you especially in a proper British accent).

After lecture and discussions, we broke off into groups to create our own origin stories!  My group decided to write about how the T-Rex got its tiny arms. We concocted a story about a vain T-Rex that was enamored with himself and would relentlessly take selfies. Due to his narcissism, he ran into a tree and his arms were retracted into his body. We expect to publish this coming fall and make millions of dollars (Kidding…or are we?).

Now to the “exciting” part of our day (please take heed of my quotation marks). As I was walking to the bathroom, I ran into Kassie, who was sprawled upon the floor, yelling for help. I was alarmed by her wide eyes and clammy hands.

I wasn’t sure what to do in the situation, but I ran to get her water and sat down next to her on the floor. She said she was feeling very queasy, so I went to grab a trash can–unfortunately I was too late. I’ll fast forward through that part, but after a lot of running around and debating whether to take her to the hospital or not, an amicable paramedic arrived. She wasn’t taken to the hospital, but she was still disoriented, so we (tried) to rush her home. A cab was called, but after waiting for over 40 minutes, we tried our luck on the streets. Taxis are surprisingly sparse around lunch time–tip for future Londoners. But we finally made it back and with Kassie in bed and safe, everyone let out a sigh of relief.

The rest of our day were fairly demure: I went to the Imperial War Museums (which was phenomenal– although be comfortable crying in front of strangers if you walk through the Holocaust portion). Jullian went to the Victoria and Albert. Emily traipsed through the National Gallery while Jessica took a chill day at home.

Off we go!

A New Year, a New Group, and New Lessons to Learn

Hello, one and all!

My name is Jessica, and I am one of the 2015 Fulbright Summer Institute Participants to King’s College London. It’s been interesting scrolling through the comments and realizing that people still actively read this blog. I guess I thought the activity died down each year after the active group stopped posting. It seems I have a legacy to live up to, so here’s hoping I can continue the awesomeness!

This year’s Fulbrights are attending the KCL module “Wonderland: 100 Years of Children’s Literature.” I’ll be completely honest: it’s been a while since I read what is usually considered children’s literature (do adaptations of fairytales count?), and it’s been never since I analyzed any. So though I may seem underprepared, it’s actually been an advantage and a blessing. It means that every day I walk into class, I am learning something brand new. I’m viewing things in a way I have never viewed them before. The limits of my mind are being stretched to include new information and analyze works that I only previously would have read as superficially entertaining.

Before a week ago, if you had handed me a copy of Grimms’ version of Little Red Riding Hood (called “Little Red Cap”), I would have said, “Oh! A fairytale! It’s great.” I never would have picked up on the social constructs of gender woven into the story or the underlying scolding tone toward women that would make (and probably does make) modern feminists cringe. Or that the Brothers Grimm added the character of the Huntsman. In earlier versions, Red Riding Hood always used her own cleverness to save herself.

I would have thought Charles Perrault’s sexualized version of Little Red Riding Hood was an affront to the very nature of fairytales, but now I know that it was written in a time when the noble women of the French courts were becoming enamored with erotic fairytales. And in a time when being the mistress of a man of rank was a badge of honor, it subtly idealized and honored chastity. (Fun Fact: It is the translation from Perrault’s original title in French that we get “Little Red Riding Hood” and the English word chaperone.)

(I’m willing to bet money that you will never read Little Red Riding Hood the same way again.)

And all of that is just the tip of the iceberg. Every day I am learning more and more, and learning to see past the simplicities and surfaces of these childhood tales. And yet, there is still so much more to learn.