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Book of the week

Play Today in the Primary School Playground: life, learning and creativity
Edited by Julia C Bishop and Mavis Curtis, with an introduction by Iona Opie
Open University Press pound;55 hbk pound;16.99 pbk

This book is a riposte to those who claim children don't know how to play any more and that the traditional culture of the playground has gone.

The contributors carry on a tradition whose finest monument is Iona and Peter Opie's The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren and this venture's pedigree is displayed by the introduction by Iona Opie herself.

The editors tell us their approach is "more descriptive than prescriptive". Not quite. Lurking in the texts is an ambiguous attitude to the role of the adult. On the one hand, there is a plea for adults to keep out. On the other, the account of the Israeli project is an example of sustained collaboration between children, teachers, parents and grandparents.

While this book shows that the language and lore of the playground continues to flourish, the editors do not seem to have taken to heart the last piece by Carol Carpenter, an elegy for Canadian children's folk hockey and a lament for its ousting by the commercialised version.

The final judgment about decline calls for a more sober reckoning. The writers rejoice at what children's culture produces without any serious attempt to appraise its negative side. John Widdowson tells us that through "jeering, taunts, defiance, retorts... they learn the exercise of power and assertiveness by the deployment of insults".

And what do the victims learn? Iona Opie is wiser. She writes: "Behind the verbal traditions of the playground can be heard the age-old prejudices, beliefs, hates, resentments."

Harold Rosen is emeritus professor at the Institute of Education, University of London

Full review in Friday magazine in this week's TESnbsp;

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