How to Use This Course
This class will be a semi-formal introduction to both folklore as a general subject and our own national treasury of folklore. Our focus will primarily be on stories, poems, and songs, but we will enjoy various aspects of our national folklife, as well. Because most students have already experienced some American folklore during the natural course of their lives, this class will go a little deeper than surface enjoyment. We will cover six regions of the country systematically after our opening study of American Indian folklore. Within each region we will focus on one or two kinds of folklore in order to better understand the nature of folklore, and we will highlight “folk music of the week” (instruments, songs, and dances). At the beginning of each region, we will also discuss one aspect of American folklife, such as holidays and ethnic traditions. The main purpose of this class is to enjoy learning about an often undervalued subject that not only is relevant to every American but that also connects with future studies of American literature and arts.
Where would a nation be without its stories? To have a sense of identity and progress, to understand how it has become what it is today, every nation must know its past. History, as you know, is composed of many elements—events, memorable dates, important people, and political upheavals, for example. Together, these elements make up a nation’s story.
Beneath that history, however, is a fascinating picture. Think of it as a kind of tapestry woven by the nation’s people with brilliant threads and intricate details. Sadly, though, this tapestry is often under-appreciated. Without taking the time to examine and enjoy it, we miss a delightful, informative window into the lives of the people who helped to shape a nation’s history. This tapestry is called “folklore.”
For our study of American folklore, we will divide the country into six regions and explore some of the folklore of each one. In addition, we’ll take a quick look at the folklore of the American Indians. We will also focus on specific types of folklore, such as tall tales and legends. It’s important to remember, though, that the different types of folklore don’t belong just to America. They have been around much longer than America has. Because the America we know today was settled by immigrants, the roots of our national folklore are not only in the New World, but also far, far away in the Old. Thus, folklore connects us to our heritage as Americans, to be sure, but also to our heritage in other nations across the oceans and the ages.
Our study will include (but not be limited to) the following topics:
- American Indians—mythology*, fables
- Northeast—legends, spooky stories*, and epitaphs
- Appalachia/mid-Atlantic—nursery rhymes, oral history, sea chanties
- Southeast—spirituals, animal tales, trickster tales
- Midwest—fairy tales, weird place lore, folktales
- West—cowboy lore and ballads, Spanish spiritual stories, fabled creature sightings
In addition, at the end of the course you will have the opportunity to choose a final project to complete that will pull your studies together. For example, you might create a scrapbook of your family’s oral history—perhaps recipes handed down from your grandmother, stories of your parents’ childhood, games you made up in the backyard with your siblings, and so on.
Are you ready? Let’s get started!
*Some parents may be understandably concerned about the inclusion of mythology and spooky stories in this course. Because a study of folklore would not be complete without attention to these sub-genres, they are included. Parents are encouraged to use the course in whatever way they see fit, even if that means skipping a lesson or two; however, it is important to note that these types of folklore are taught only from a neutral, academic perspective.
- Unit 1: What is Folklore? (2 weeks)
- Unit 2: Native Americans (3 weeks)
- Unit 3: Northeast (3 weeks)
- Unit 4: Appalachia (3 weeks)
- Unit 5: Deep South (3 weeks)
- Unit 6: Midwest (3 weeks)
- Unit 7: Mountain West (3 weeks)
- Unit 8: Pacific West (3 weeks)
- Unit 9: Introduction to Final Project (1 week)
If a middle- or high-school student completes the course by reading the lesson and completing all of the “core assignments,” it may count as a humanities elective. Students who complete at least half of the optional assignments in addition to reading the lesson and completing all of the core assignments may count this course as a half-credit in humanities (language arts/social studies/arts). High-school students should choose the more challenging activities or go in-depth with the easier activities in order to achieve this half-credit. As always, please check your own state’s academic requirements.