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P. 1
Nicolopoulou Scales, & Weintraub - Gender Differences and Symbolic Imagination in the Stories of Four-Year-Olds

Nicolopoulou Scales, & Weintraub - Gender Differences and Symbolic Imagination in the Stories of Four-Year-Olds

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Published by Jeff Weintraub
In A. H. Dyson & C. Genishi (Eds.) (1994), The Need for Story: Cultural Diversity in Classroom and Community (pp.102-123). Urbana IL: National Council of Teachers of English
In A. H. Dyson & C. Genishi (Eds.) (1994), The Need for Story: Cultural Diversity in Classroom and Community (pp.102-123). Urbana IL: National Council of Teachers of English

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Published by: Jeff Weintraub on Oct 21, 2010
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02/19/2012

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In:
A.
H.
Dyson
&
C,Genishi(Eds.)
(1994),
The
Needfor
Story:
Cuttural
Diversity
in
Classroornand
Commanit!(pp'
102-123).
Urbana
IL:
National Council
of
Teachers
pf
English.
I
Gender
Dffferencesand
Symboliclmagination
In
theStories
of
Four-Year-Olds
Ageliki
Nicolopoulou
SmithCollegeBarbara
Scales
University
of
California,
Berkeley
feff
WeintraubWilliams
College
AgelibiNicalopotrlou,
Barhara
Scales,and,
leff
Weintraub
turn
ourattention
to another
sourceof
dtfference
in
students'stories-gender.
Thryportray
the
striking
differences
in
tke narrstiae
styles
of
four-year*ld
boys
sncl
girls. Thex
differences
insymbolicimagination
raise
thought-
prwoking
questions
aboutthe
warls
in
zol$ch
young
childrefi
construct
tluir
social
worlds-{tnd
tlrc
ut{tys
in
which
teachers
might
further
andexpand
those
worlds.
ost scholarsand
practitioners
in
the
field
ofeducation
are,
for
understandable
reasons,
rnoreinterested
in
stories
writtenforchildren,
which
thev
read
or
which
are
toldto
them,
than
in
stories
thatchildre
n
tlrcmselies
composeandtell.
But
of
course
the
two
subjects are
notunrelated:when
children
tell
stories,
they
reveal
some-
thing irnportant aboutwlro they
areand
how
ttrey
see
the
world.
Bv
graspingtheforms
of
s'yrnbolic
imagination
expressed
in
thestoriesthat
children
tell,
we
can
improve
our
understanding
of
howchildren
comprehend
and
respondto
the
stories
told
fo
themand
what
kindof
impressionthesestoriesmake
on
them. But
part
of
what
makes
chil-
dren'$
storytelliog
so
revealing,
it
isimportant
to add,is
that
it
pla,vs
a
vital
role
in
their own
efforts
to
make
sense
of
the
worldandto
find
theirplace
i,n
it.
As bothBruner
(e.9.,1986,1990)
and
Paley
(*.9.,
1981,
1984a,
1984b,1988,1990)
have emphasizetl
indifferent
wavs,thesto-
Nicolopoulott,
Scales,
andWeintraub
ries
childrentell
are
themselvs
cognitive
tools,
andchildren's
use
of
fantasyis
a
crucial
element
in
theirattemptsto
masterreality-
One philosopher
has
arguedthat,
if
we
listen
carefully
to
chil-
dren,ft'e
can
see
the
ways
in
which
they
are
little
philosophers:they
ponderthe
d.eepest
metaphysical
andontologr.ut
problems
in
theirown
u/ay
in
an
attempt
to
bring
cognitiveorder to
the
universe(Mat-thews
1980).
In
a
parallel
fashion"
thischapter
will
urgethat we
take
childrenseriously
as
little
artists.
Th"y
use
storiesand
other forrns
of
syrnbolic expression
inorderto
represent
the
wodd-to
themselvesand
each
other-and
therebvtomake
sense
of
it.Simultaneously,
they
use
their
stories
as
a
wayof
expressing
certainemotionally
important
thernes
that
preoccupy them and of
symbolically
managing
or
resolv-
ing
these
underlying
themes.
fn
constmcting
their
stories,
thev
draw
in
variouslvayson
images
and conceptual
resources present
in
their
culture,
but
they
do
notjustpassively
abrcrb
thenr-and
the
messages
betrind
them.
[t
seems
clearthat,e!'en
at
the
age
of
four,they
are
able
to
appropriate
themand
to
somedegree
to
manipulate them
fortheir
ownsymbolic
ends.But
once
again,to
see
how
theydo
it,
we
have
to
listen to
them carefully.
The
Study
Plan
The
presentdiscussion
is
based
on
the
analysisof
a set
of spontaneous
stories
told by
a
group
of
four-year-olds.The larger
concern
behind
this
investigation
isto
explore
the
different
ways
in which
chitdren
use
symbolic
conslructionsto represent and
organize
reality-and,
in
this
case,
the
ways
in
which
these differences
come
to
be
strucfured
by
gender
Our
findings
suggest
that,evenat
this
early
d1e,
the
boys
and
girlsinvolved
visualizeand
represent
the
world-and
especiallythe
worldof
social
relations-instriki*gly
distinctive
ways.Their
differ-
iog
orientationsare
expressed
in
their
active
use
and
irnaginative
elaboration
oi
twodistinclive
andgender-related
narrative
styles
that
permeate
tlris
body
of
stories.
Underlying
these
nalrative
styles
are
differentforms
of symbolic
imagination,different
emergi.g
images
of
social
realiiY
and
differentways
of
coming
togrips
with
that
realitv.Theyrepresent,among
otherthings,quite
different
approaches
to
the
symbolic
management
of
orderanddisorder.
Inaddition
tobroaden-
ing
our
knowledge
of
narrative
diversitv
among
young
children,
it
seerns
likelv
thatgrasping
these
differencescan
help
us
understand
tendencies
toward
the
developmental
emergence
of
differentcognitive
and
culfural
styles
in
men andwomen.
103
102
 
r04
GenderDiffereilces
nnct
Syrrrbolic
lnnginntiort
The
Children
and
Their
Stories
Thestories
we
havebeen
analyzi.g
werecomposcd
by
chilclren
at-
tending
a
half-daynursery
school
affiliated
with
the
Child
StudyCen-
ter
of
the
UniversityofCalifornia,
Berkeley.
The
groupinvolved
wastheclass
of
four-year-olds,ofwhich
one
of
theauthors,
Barbara
Scales,
is
the head
teacher.
The
class
consisted
of
28
children,
74
boys
atrd
14
girls.The
family
backgrounds
of
thechildren
in
this grouP
were
pri-marilymiddle
to
upper-middle
class,
mostly
professionaloracademic.
In
most
cases,
both
parents
worked
outside
the
holne.
Toprepare
for
some
of
the
discussionlater on,we
want
to
emphasize
that
the
nurseryschoolattemptsstronglyanddeliberatelyto
create
an
egalitarian
andnonsexistatmosphere;
andwe
have
every
reasonto
believethat
most
of
the
children
come
from
families
which
share
thisorientation.The storieswere collected
by
using
a
variant
of
a
storytelling
andstory-actingtechniquepioneered
by
Vivihn
Paley.
One optional
activity
in
which
any
child
in
theschool
majt
choose
to
participateevery
duyis to
dictatea
storytothe
teacher
|vho
is
supervising
the
inside
area
that
day.
The
teacherrecordsthe
story
as
the
child
tellsit.
At
theendof
eachduy,
all
the
stories
dictated
during
that
duy
areread
aloudto
the entire
groupat"circletime"
by
the sarneteaclter.
While'thestory
is
being
read,the
child-author
andotherchildren,
whom
he
or
shecl',ooses,
act
out
thestory.
This story-acting
practice
is
aimed
at
fosteringcommunicationandthedevelopment
of
a commonculture
within
the
group
of
children
by
having
them
listen
to
and
even
activelyparticipate
in
each
other's
stories.
-
the
analysis
is based
onthecomplete
set
of
582
storiescollected
during
the
entire
academic
year
1988-89,
which
included storiestoldbyall2Acnitdren.About
50
percent
(347)
of
these
storieswere
dictated
bygirls
andabout
40
percent
(235)
by
boys.
(This
corPus
of stories
is
drawnfrom
the
'Child
Study
Center
Archives
of
Children's
Play
Nar-
ratives"
atthe
InstituteofHuman
Development
of
the
Uuiversity
ofCalifornia,
Berkeley.)
Interpretive
Analysis:Narrative
as
Symbolic
Form
Material
of
this
kind
constitutesanespecially
rich
source
of
datafor
research
thatexplores
the
role
of
narratives
in
children'sconstruction
ofreality
andpersonalidentity.This
is
true
above
all
because
of
their
voluntaryand
spontaneous
compositionand
because
the
children's
storytellingactivityis
embedded
in
the ongoing
framework
of
their
Nico/o
poulou,
Scnles,
nncl
Weintrnulr
everyday
group
life-irl
the"real
world"
of
their
classroom
mipi-cultttre.
I;urthertnore,
because
of
"circle
tinte,"
tftese
arestoriestfiat
chiltlrelltell
not
only
to
adults,
but
to
othercftildren
as
well.
Fronr
a
methodologicalstandpoint,
the
question
is
what
kild
of
approach
can
besttake
advanlog.
of
thepossibilitiesoffered
by
thismaterial.While
a
considerable
hmountof
work
on
children
and
narra-tivesisbeingdone
rlow
in
the
overlappingdisciptines
of
psychology
and
linguistics,
studiesthatdeal
with
children'sown
stori"i
ur"decid-edly
in
the
mitrority.
Even
in
these
cases,
thestories
are
usually
gener-
ated
under
conditionsthat
sharply
limit
their
spontaneouscharacter
(often
for
well-consideredmethodological
reasons,
to
besure). Fur-
thermore,
for
several
decadesthe
great
bulk
ofthis
researchhas
tended
to focusmore
or
less
exclusively
on formal
elements
of
the
stories-
most
typically
theirnarrative
structure--and
to neglect
theirsymboliccontent
(for
somereviews,
see
Mandler
1983;
Romaine
1985;
Slobin
1990;
Stein
andGlenn
1,982).
Wearenecessarilyspeaking
in
broadtermshere,
and
there
are
significant
exceptions,
but
even
when
atten-
tion
is
paidto
the
symboliccontent,
it
is
usuallyin
an incidental
and
unsystematic
way
(e.9.,
Sutton-Smith
1981).
On
the
otherhand,
some
investigations
derivi.g
from
apsychoanalyticperspectiveobviously
focus
quite heavily
on
symboliccontent
(e.g.,
Bettelheim
7977;
Pitcher
and
Prelinger
196il,
but
theseanalyses
tend
to
neglect
the
formal
elements
of
thestories
and
the
cognitive
styles
they
embody.
HoweveL
a
rigid
divorce
between
form
andcontent
in
the
analy-
sis
of children'snarratives
makes
it
difficult
tocaptureprecisely
those
features
which
renderthem
important
and
emotionally
engaging
for
childreu.The
child'sstory
isfragmented
into
elements
that,takJn
inisolation,
do
not
fully
capturethe
point
of
telling
andlistening
to
stories.Studies
of
children'snarrative
competence,
for
example,
are
often
strangelyabstracted
from
the
uses
to
whichchildren
prt
this
comPetence
and
their
purposes
indoing
so.
Overcoming
this
fragmen-
tation-reassembling
the
phenomenonofstory
as
a
living
whole-re-
quiresan
aPProach
that
can
integrate
the
formal
analysis
ofchildren'snarratives
into
a
morecomPrehensive
interpretiae
perspective.
In
par-ticular;
it
requires
thatwe
treat
narrative
form
as
a
type
of
synrbolic
form,
whose
functionis
to
confermeaning
on
experienie,
rathlr
than
conceiving
it
only
in
terms
of
linguistic
structure.
As
Bruner
has
co-
gently
put
it,
'The
centralconcern
isnothownarrativetextis
con-
structed,
but
rather
how
it
operates
as
an
instrumentof mind
in
the
constructionof
reality"
(7992,
233).
105
 
105GenderDifferences
and
SymbolicImnginatiorr
Thus
the
interpretive
framework
wehave
developed
to
analyze
these
stories
attempts
to capture
boththeir form
aud
their
content and
tobring
out
the
relationship
betweenthem.
In working
outour
ap-proach,
w€
have
drawn
on
a
range
of
sources,
includi^g
several
of
the
contributorsto thisvolume.
One especially
useful
source
of
guidancehas been
the mode
ofculturalinterpretation
championed
by
Geertz,
ananthropologist
(".9.,
1973),
and
thebroader
"interpretive
tunr"
inthe human
sciences
for
which
he
hasbeen
a particularlyinfluential
spokesman.The
guidinginsight of
this perspective
is
that
the
interpre-tation
ofmeaning
is
not
only
a
key
requirement for
thestudy
ofhuman
life, but
issimultaneously
a
central
condition of
humanthought
and
action
itself.
Accordingly,
our
starting
point is
the
premise
that
the
children's
stories are
meaningfultexts that,
if
analyzedcarefully,
can
tell
usagreatdeal
about
the
waysthatchildren grasp the
world
andsocial
relationships.
The
crucial
concern
of
an
interpretive
analysis
is
tlrus
to
elucidate
or
decodethe
sfructuresof
nrcaning
that
the
storiesembodyand
express-reconstructing
not
only
the
surfacemeanings
of
thestories,
but
also
certain
deeper
patterns
thert
organize and
inform
tlrem.
Whenthey
areapproached
in
this
wdf,children's
spontaneousstories,
fls
well
as
otherexpressions
oftheirsymbolicimagination,
carl
offer
us
an
invaluable
and privileged
windowinto
thenrind
of
thepreschooler.
Gender-relatedNarrative
Stylesin Children'sStories
Whenwe
first
set
out
toexarnine
these
stories,we
did
not ltavegender
differences
in
mind,nor
were
we
searching
for
different
narrative
styles.They emerged
in
the
course
of
the analysis,and
indeedtook
us
by
surprise.
It
had
been
suggested
that
the
us"
of
this
storytelling
and
story-acting
practice
seemed
togenerate greater cohesion and
solidar-
ity
amongthe
children,
and
it
wasthis phenomenon of social cohesion
we wished
to study.
Our
originalintention
was
to
tracethe
ways
that
themes
were
transmitted
andelaborated
within
the
group
and
became
part
of
the
children's
common
culture.But
as
we
read
systematically
through
theentirecorpus
of
the
stories,one
profoundcomplicationin
this
picture
became
increasingly
apparentto
us:nam
ely,
that
the
stories
dividedoverwhehningly
along
gender lines.Despitethe
fact that
thestories
were
shared
with
the
entire
groupevery
day,
boys
and
girlstold different
kinds
of
stories.
In
fact, the
kinds
of
storiesboys
and
girls
told differedsysternatically
and
consistently
not
only
in
their
characteristicsubject matter,
but
also
Nicolopoulou,
Scnles,
and
Weintrnub
in
the
overall
rtarrativestructureandsymbolic
irnagination
they
em-
ployed.
We
discovered,
inother words,that
this
bodyof
storiesis
domi-
trated
bytwohighlydistinctive
narrative
styles,
divided
to
a
striking
extetrtalonggenderlines,
that
contrast
sharply
(and
subtly)
in
their
characteristic
modes
of
representing
experience
and
in
their
underly-ing
inrages
of
social
relationshipr.
In
fact,
these
narrative
styles
ern-
body
two
distinctive
types
of
genuine
aesthetic
imagination(surprising
as
it
may
seemto assert
this
of
four-year-olds),
each
with
its
own itrnerlogic
and
coherence.
Inparticular;
underlying
and
unify-ing
many
of
thesurfacethemes
in
thestories
is
a
preoccupation
with
issues
oforder
atrd disorder;
here
we
are
indebted
to
the
theoretical
lead
provided
by
Douglas,
anotheranthropologist
(particularly
in
Dougla
s
1966).
In
general-to
anticipate
our
overall
conclusions-thegirls'
storiesshow
a
strain
towa
rd
order,
while
the
boys'
stories
show
a
straintoward
disorder,
a
dif.ference
that
is
expressed
in
both
the
form
andcontent
of
thestories.
The
subsequetrtdiscussion
will
flesh
out
what
we
meanin
speaking
of
a"straintoward
order"
and
a"straintoward
disord
er,"
fonnulations
wehave
arrived
at
through
a
veryflexible
appropriationof
some ideas
in
Dewey's
Art
asExperience(1958).
But
let
us cautionimmediately
against
a
possible
nrisunderstanding:both
styles
involveways
of
bringingorder
to
experience.
As
Douglasmakesclea{,
an
imageof
disorder
always
implies
a
background
imageof
order
against
which
it
is
cotrceived;
and,furtherrnore,the disorder
of
the
boys'stories
itself
represents
a
kind
of
order.The
kuy
point
is
that
thestyles
of
the
boys'and
girls'
storiesrepresent
two
verydifferent
approachestothe
symbolic
management
of order
and disorder.
In
this
chapter
wecall
only
sketch
out
some
of
themostcharac-
teristic
features
which
define
anddistinguish
these
two
narrative
styles
and
the
cognitiveandsymbolic
mpdes
they
embody.
Although
the basic
patterrts
are
ratherclear
once
thgy
havebeen
mappedout, the
subtleties
and
nuances
involved
proddce
a
much richer
and
more
complexpicture
thanwe
can
fully
presetlt
here.To
complicate
matters
further;
individual
children
are
often
able
to
put
theirown
unique
starnp
on
thestyles
theyemploy.But
hereis
a
beginni^g.The
Girls'Stories:A
StraintowardOrder
Let us
first
cltaracterize
the
girls'
stories
in
terms
of
both form
andcontent"
The
girls'
stories,
but
not
those
of
theboys,
tendto
have
a
coherent
plot
with
a
stable
set
ofcharactersand
a
continuousplot
line.
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