Elders' legacy: Foxfire spreads

''Foxfire,'' known to many as the magazine, books, and Tandy-Cronin stage production, grew out of a school project in isolated Rabun Gap, Ga. There a creative teacher, Eliot (Wig) Wigginton, persuaded word-shy students to interview community elders and publish their stories. Through the project, students increased their vocabularies, their community pride, their interests, and self-confidence.

Now admirers have successfully introduced the Foxfire principles in far-flung Alaskan native schools. Ann Vick is the adult most responsible for the recent publication of ''The Cama-i Book,'' a compilation of student reports that reveal the variety, vigor, and resourcefulness of natives in southwestern Alaska. The word cama-i is their traditional greeting.

Ann believes any school, including urban schools, can generate the revival of community spirit through intergenerational learning programs.

The seacoast town of Hull, Mass., plans to initiate a Foxfire/Cama-i-type program in its high school. ''We hope this will be a model that will spread to other metropolitan area schools,'' Ann says. ''I'm so convinced of the value of this kind of learning for kids and the community that I think it can be applied absolutely anywhere.''

Micahel Westlake, director of the Peddocks Island Trust, which manages a recreational island in Boston Harbor near Hull and which is co-sponsoring the Hull project, shares Ann's conviction. He says, ''Boston has turned its back on the harbor. But now we have the beginning of a program which can restore the proper place of these communities. I see the old fort on Peddocks Island housing museum exhibits created by the Hull kids. Then visitors to Peddocks (now part of a state park) could become aware of the real, long-established strengths of the locality.''

Says Richard P. Charlton, superintendent of Hull Schools, ''We think this kind of program has merit for everyone who participates. We are still exploring how, but we expect to begin with in-service training for some of our teachers.''

There are programs patterned after Wigginton's original project in 33 states.

When the Cama-i project started in 1974, Ann says, kids were ''profoundly bored'' with their own community. But interviewing long-time residents gave them a different feeling about their village and themselves. She watched them become more sensitive to community loyalty; they learned to separate grudges, gossip, and verbal vendettas from accurate testimony.

They also learned to respect the sacred meaning of certain legends that were shared with them. In some tribes, religious legends are owned by families or clans. The students did not reproduce these legends without permission of their owners.

Ann thinks teachers who use the Foxfire/Cama-i mode must be comfortable with young people as individuals and able to accept differences of pace; they must feel at home in the community; and they must have faith in the students' ability to do high-quality, responsible work.

She is skeptical about the value of education courses, feeling empathy with the students and community are the most important factors in a teacher's ability to teach. But she did take enough courses at the University of Alaska - Fairbanks to satisfy state certification requirements.

Seventh- to tenth-graders seem ideally suited to this kind of project, notes Ann. Some stay with it through high school and help others learn to do the field work. She thinks this ''peer teaching'' is a great strength to the program.

''We never claimed to offer a complete language arts course,'' she says. ''Ours is one way to help kids overcome verbal shyness and fear of the written word. We think results justify our approach and go way beyond that.

''In our program, all adults in the community start to become teachers. And grandparents whose importance has diminished become important again. We think the program contributes to the overall health of the whole community.''

''The Cama-i Book,'' edited with an introduction by Ann Vick, is published by Anchor Press/Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y., l983, $9.95.

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