Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

Charley King

This is, without doubt, one of the oldest jokes in 19thCentury American History, and originated from the picket lines, during labour strikes. It is incredible to think, that such a simple concept should provide such humour for over 150 years. The endless variations to the answer have kept stand-up comedy on the stage and children bewildered, across the globe as to its purpose. So, what is the answer, why on earth write about it and where does it fit into our pacey, futuristic world?

Wikipedia suggests that, The answer to “Why did the chicken cross the road”, was originally: To get where he was standing. This means that the labourer had chickened out of the strike and crossed the picket line over to the factory.’Furthermore, ‘To get where he was standing meant that he would continue to make the same income he had before the strike, and not improve his standing.’ Nowadays, however, there are so many different variations, that the world has lost the concept of it’s very meaning. For example, the most used to date has been – ‘To get to the other side.’

Expressions such as this, jokes, quips, riddles, songs and verse have evolved so quickly and in some ways in such an extreme way, that I worry that we are simply reciting such historical literacy, with no conceptual understanding; or discarding their real importance. Should one be bothered, does it really matter, or should we hold onto these famous and meaningful texts?

I recall my university days, whereby in teaching training, the class was presented with one of the Famous Five books, ‘Five go to Mystery Moor’ from the 1950’s; a classic. In the texts we received, there were, however, significant changes. Any reference to the character George, had been crossed out in pen and above its replacement Georgina. Furthermore, Dick, had been crossed out and replaced by Richard. Upon questioning the lecturer at the time, I was duly informed that it was not politically correct or proper to educate children who were heading into the 21stCentury with such material. Case closed. No debate, accept or leave, score 1-0 lecturer. A week later, when the lecturer went to refer to the text from her book, she discovered a clean version, with the original text… score 1-1. It didn’t end there unfortunately, as we then moved on to Swallows and Amazons, and of course, Titty was a definite a no No!

For me, it is vitally important to hold onto our history, the originality of our creations and to educate our children with these wonderful inventions of literature.

The same, it seems, can be said about reading books in general – the advent of the kindle (a wonderful invention, for the future, and loved by many) I cannot and will not criticize it; however, as an educator, I want to point out that through the invention of these, the young (and old) are losing the ability to explore and wonder in a real book, with pages and to communicate with each other over such a tactile object. My Great Aunt, Miss Doris Ann Goodchild MBE, was a wonderful writer and illustrator of her own books – to see them, to touch them and to experience the attention to detail is a glorious thing – she left us with a great legacy to promote.

Such great authors and writers of our historical texts, did so, to give us something to treasure as well as something of meaning. Those picket workers in America didn’t come up with the question of ‘why did the chicken cross the road?’ purely for the sake of it, Enid Blyton called Dick, Dick for a reason. Likewise, George was named George. Furthermore, my Great Aunt hand wrote her books to demonstrate a skill, for children of the future, to witness and take inspiration from.

My role in opening a new school in Moscow, gives me the opportunity to hone in on what’s actually important for these children of the future. For me, it is about preserving our history, opening up such historical wonders for our children, and passing on the passion to embrace what may, to others, seem rather pointless or politically incorrect texts. Certainly, from the hundreds of meetings I have had this past year, with parents of future Brookes children, a very high proportion are thrilled to know that their children will read from ‘real books.’ Our educators will, therefore, provide the children with access to the innovative world, but at the same time, they will indulge the children with a library packed to the rafters with real books and opportunities to have meaningful discussions about why a text is written like it is. I expect, by the time we reach the October half term, for all children to know the real meaning behind why the chicken crossed the road, but at the same time, provide me with a comical or clever reason themselves.

To start the ball rolling, I shall inspire them with one of my own:

‘Why did the chicken cross the road? Because the grass was most definitely greener on the other side.’

Charley King. Head of Brookes Moscow