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The Arts and Play as Educational Media in the Digital Age

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Robert Albrecht and Carmine Tabone

The digital revolution we are now entering as educators is an unchartered sea pregnant with wondrous possibilities but laden with a minefield of unforeseen consequences. A pedagogy that overlooks or downplays the disruptive and often dangerous influence of digital media on childhood development is necessarily a very shortsighted one.

More than just highlighting our misgivings about digital media, however, this book has a purpose far more ambitious and infinitely more useful. Based upon 45 years of work with young people in Jersey City classrooms, day camps, housing projects, libraries, church basements and community centers, the authors propose a pedagogical strategy that uses hands-on experiences in the arts as a strategy to offset and counterbalance the dominance of digital media in the lives of children.

Rather than call for the elimination of digital media—clearly an impossibility even if it were desirable—the authors maintain that children need to be exposed to non-digital, non-electronic experiences that cultivate alternative ways of thinking, feeling, and being in the world. In sum, the book does not call for an end to the digital, but outlines ways in which the arts and creative forms of play help to establish a balance in the education and socialization of children as we enter more deeply into the Digital Age.

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Chapter Four: The Man Who Had No Story: Why the Arts in Education Matter

CHAPTER FOUR

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The Man Who Had No Story

Why the Arts in Education Matter

Nations are Destroy’d, or Flourish, in proportion as Their Poetry Painting and Music, are Destroy’d or Flourish!

William Blake1

In the old Irish folktale “The Man Who Had No Story” (O’Cathain, 1980; Yolen, 1986), the hard working but rather dull Brian O’Brannigan is taught a life changing lesson by the fairies of the field. So industrious was he that the people in his village would point at him every time he ran past and say, “There goes Brian O’Brannigan, here again, gone again.” One day, while hurrying about and gathering bundles of straw for his basket making business, Brian looked over at the forbidden field of the fairies abundant with the finest straw he had ever seen. “If I cut the straw quickly,” thought Brian, “no one will ever know.” Working in great haste before he could be spotted, Brian soon became exhausted and fell into a deep, deep sleep.

When he awoke, the young man found himself engulfed by darkness. As he anxiously stumbled through this unfamiliar landscape, he spied a light in the distance and began to make his way towards it. “Where there’s light,” he reasoned, “there must be people.” Sure enough, Brian shortly arrived at a small cottage. When he peered through the window, he saw an elderly couple sitting by the fire sipping tea. “Should I knock at their door?” he thought to...

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