Thursday, March 6, 2008

Service Learning: Creating Community Change (and A Lot of Laughs)

III. Getting Things Done

With the seed of an idea planted, the next week we review what we have learned: Children's Hospital has a lot of toys - including Playstation! - but they could use some laughter. We spend some time talking about what we know about jokes.

I start by asking if anyone has ever heard a joke that they thought was funny. A lot of hands go up. I ask if anyone has ever told a joke. More hands. I ask if anyone has a joke that they remember that they'd like to tell the group. The hands stay up, even straining to get raised higher.

So, we start telling jokes. I start.

"What did the zero say to the eight?" I ask to a circle full of smiling children and anticipatory stares.

"Nice belt." The teacher laughs out loud. So do I. A few children do, but others are less sure, laughing more because the rest of us are and besides which this is a pretty fun way to spend a morning. I explain the joke (zero + belt = eight), and then we're all laughing together, although some more tentatively than others.

I try the Interrupting Cow Joke, which I'd originally learned from an eight year-old. I ask them if anyone knows the Interrupting Cow Joke. They all shake their heads. I tell them that it's a knock-knock joke, and ask if they're ready. They say they are.

"Knock, knock," I say.

"Who's there?" they respond.

"The interrupting cow," I tell them.

"The interru---"


I love this joke. We're all laughing. Clearly, this is my kind of an audience. Much more receptive than the late 20's, early 30's crowd who are usually subjected to my joke-telling. I ask the teacher if she's got any jokes that she likes, and she says she's not very good at remembering jokes, so I turn to the class. A few of the children offer jokes. We all laugh, whether or not they make sense, mostly because it's such a joyful conversation to have. I observe that this class has clearly found its niche. We get consensus that our project should be a joke book, made up of our some of our favorites.

I give the class homework. For next week, everyone should bring in a joke. They could find it in a book or they could get it from someone in their family or a friend. They could even write it themselves. But wherever they find it, they should write it down and bring it in, and next week we'll sit and tell each other some of our favorite jokes. The teacher agrees to put it in the homework log and we call it a week.

We end with a game.

* * *

The next class arrives, and most everyone has a joke. Some have written them down. Some just remember them. Some are holding the class library's joke books in their hands.

We go around the circle. I tell them that if they don't have one or don't want to share, I'd skip them or come back to them, but everyone should get a chance to share.

They are hilarious, even the ones that don't make sense:
  • "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Ann." "Ann who?" "An old wrinkled grape."
  • What do you call cheese that is not your own? Nacho cheese.
  • "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Fry." "Fry who?" "Fry me some chicken."
  • Why do you cross the street? To see the monkeys.
We're all smiles. And what's more remarkable is that we're able to carry on the conversation for more than 30 minutes, an impressive stretch for eight year-olds. When I think about it later, I think that it must be in part because of the novelty of the conversation topic, but also because everyone's involved. We've bought into not only the outcomes of our project (a way to help children in the hospital), but we've also bought into the process.

In the weeks ahead, we'd tell more jokes, look at what makes a good picture book, and get to work... be continued

See other posts in this series:

No comments: