Sentient puppets and the moral imagination : a descriptive study of the integration of story with puppetry arts on film via an original production pilot episode featuring Phyzzlestapf the Dragon as moral instruction to second through fifth grade children.
Ware, Allen Reeves.
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Good character involves knowing the good, loving the good, and doing the good. Children are not born virtuous, but must be taught to recognize that which is virtuous. The best lessons for children are those that engage a child’s imagination, not only to empathize with another person’s situation, but also to think about the impact one’s own actions may have on another person. Such insight is the essence the essence of the moral imagination. Storytelling, through performance or the written word, has the ability to touch the heart and capture the imagination. Teaching morality through story is a classic example of character education, dating back as far as the theatre of Ancient Greece. Equally as ancient a theatrical form is puppetry. Puppets have an uncanny ability to capture the imagination of their audience. Puppets are also able to deal with topics in a symbolic way, freeing the puppet to address issues that might be too controversial if confronted by a human. This study sought to explore the potential of puppetry arts in the role of moral teacher. This descriptive study traces the development of an original puppet film production created by The Ware House Puppets, and designed to engage the moral imagination of elementary students. The study took place in two central Texas school districts. The puppets employed in this study were designed and performed after methods developed for Jim Henson’s Muppets. Forty-eight children in second through fifth grade completed this study. Participants were observed while viewing the puppet film, and interviewed afterwards in focus groups. The children in this study displayed observable behavior indicating engagement and interest in the puppets and the film. During the focus group interviews, children demonstrated varied levels of moral thought. Many participants expressed making connections to the puppet characters. The results of this study indicated that the puppets did have the ability to engage the moral imagination of the participants in this study.