Posted by: Katie Hamachek | October 10, 2011

The Power of Play

I was especially captivated by Chapter 5’s focus on Harry Potter.  I think the reason this subject captivated me so much more than the other examples was because I grew up with Harry Potter.  I was more or less the same age as Harry Potter as the books came out (there I go, just like Jenkin’s talks about in the fan cultures, establishing my special claim on some close relation to the main character).  Although I never went so far as to write down fan fiction, you can be sure I daydreamed about the world of Hogwarts.  Much as Jenkins discusses, I used the storylines of Harry Potter as a jumping off point, or in other words, I borrowed Rowlings framework in order to develop my own narrative abilities.  Probably because of this personal experience, the discussion of the concern of kids “copying” the works of others stood out to me.

Jenkins raised an interesting point with the comparison to apprenticeship.  Historically, craftsmen (such as writers), were given the opportunity to study under a master and often would use the master’s own images, written or verbal, to refine their own creative skills.  To create your own fantasy world is an overwhelming and daunting task that is difficult to see through to completion (which I might know from personal experience… nerd).  For most novice writers, creating a vibrant alternate universe would be more than they can handle. By working within a preexisting framework they can take manageable steps to hone their craft.  Furthermore, Jenkins explains that by using a common framework, teachers can give better constructive criticism due to a shared frame of reference. This reference to creative apprenticeships made me think of an example from art history.  I think everyone can agree that Leonardo DaVinci was a master painter and genius in his own right.  When DaVinci was still a young adult, his father sent him to train under the master painter and sculptor Verrochio.  One of the earliest examples of DaVinci’s distinct workmanship and style can be seen on one of the angels on Verrochio’s painting (  Renaissance masters frequently allowed/used young apprentices to finish the supporting details of a commissioned work of art, creating the painting as a workshop, not as a single artist. The work was still sold as the master’s, but shows an example of a more communal (or as Jenkins might say, folk) approach to art.  In this example, the student literally inserted his own creative vision onto the creation of the master.  Similarly, fan fiction communities such as the Sugar Quill allow students or amateurs to build upon the work of a more experienced artist.  I think it would be a serious trivialization to say that fan fiction can only be a mere derivative copy of the original work.  Rather, using the apprenticeship model, I think it is easy to recognize fan fiction can provide an opportunity to build the educational scaffolding and expand growing writer’s literary abilities.

Jenkins went on question how/if we can infuse these affinity spaces into traditional scholastic frameworks.  The affinity space idea captured my attention and made me think of a recent lecture I attended at the Portland Children’s museum regarding the power of play (if you really want, you can read my summary about the lecture on one of the blogs I write for, YES Space).  Jenkins stated that the reason affinity spaces are so powerful is that the fans are passionate about the fantasy world they write about.  This passion and and subsequent writing to engage the fantasy world could be seen as an educational form of play.  I learned at the lecture that there has been significant research showing that our brain’s are more receptive to learning when our minds are in a state of play.  A mind in a state of play is relaxed and willing to take cognitive risks and can more easily seek creative solutions.  I think one of the reason fan fiction is such a powerful learning tool is that the writers are enjoying themselves while they write, that they are, in essence, in a state of play rather than study.  Unfortunately, most students today see school as a chore, or obligation rather than an opportunity to play.  As Jenkins posits, “school culture generates a different mindset than our recreational lives” (194).  The fan fiction communities are a self selecting community of people with a common passion.  You can’t force a common interest or passion upon a group of diverse students.  As one of the previous posts this week mentioned, not everyone is interested in the fantasy world of Harry Potter, and nor should they have to be.  Teachers can certainly introduce students to material they hope will be inspiring, though this would probably best be done by providing a variety of materials rather than focusing on a single source.  My concern would be that by forcing students to participate in a specific affinity culture, such as contributing to the Daily Prophet, any begrudging negative participants could dilute or tarnish the experience for others in the class and reduce the potential excitement and involvement they would have naturally developed outside of class. But maybe one negative attitude wouldn’t ruin it for the others.

The true issue here is the underlying fact that schools are rarely places of play.  Considering all the research that affirms the power of play to build children (and adults!) cognitive and creative potential, we should be creating opportunities in school for children to learn through playing.  This doesn’t mean letting kids run around like wild men without any structure, but engaging kids at their point of interest and passion, and creatively teaching lessons.  I think allowing kids the option to participate in fan communities for an English class project is a perfect example of this in action.  The key seems to be in not forcing the topic, but in helping young students connect with what excites them and showing them ways they can connect that to their real lives.  Fictional stories provide valuable forums for readers of any age to work through real issues and critically analyze their world.  Maybe this is just the idealistic ramblings of a girl who has always loved to read for fun, but I think the Power of Play movement, as seen in Jenkins, as heard at the Children’s Museum has a point worth considering.

My questions for the week:

1. In chapter 4, Jenkins states there was no distinction between producers and consumers of culture.  I’m not sure exactly what he means here. Is he just saying that all the consumers and producers were the same people?

2. Can schools refocus to allow them to tap into the power of play, or power of affinity spaces, or are they too geared toward standardized results? Furthermore, by cutting spending to the more creative aspects of education, arts and music, etc, are we doing irreparable damage to kids?

3. Is there an ideal balance between time spent in a virtual/fictional world and time spent in the physical world?  At what point is it unhealthy for kids to engage virtually versus physically?  At what point is it liberating and educational?


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