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Telling stories

As teachers, school leaders, and parents, the stories we tell exert a profound influence on our students, communities, and children. What matters is not only what the stories are about, but how we tell them.

This is point of a nice little essay by Richard Gamble over at the Front Porch Republic. He quotes Wendell Berry’s character Hannah Coulter (from the eponymous novel):

Suppose your stories, instead of mourning and rejoicing over the past, say that everything should have been different. Suppose you encourage or even just allow your children to believe that their parents ought to have been different people, with a better chance, born in a better place. Or suppose the stories you tell them allow them to believe, when they hear it from other people, that farming people are inferior and need to improve themselves by leaving the farm. Doesn’t that finally unmake everything that has been made? Isn’t that the loose thread that unravels the whole garment?
And how are you ever to know where the thread breaks, and when the tug begins?

How can we tell stories to (paraphrasing C.S. Lewis) “fire the imagination and strengthen the will?”

Of course, schools are not the only storytellers, nor should they be:

“Education happens in many contexts: in the family from the time children are infants; in the extended family of grandparents and aunts and uncles (including the memory of ancestors long dead); in the alleys and sidewalks and playgrounds of neighborhoods; in the church; and within the classroom walls of more formal education.”

But are our schools telling compelling, jargon-free stories? Do they fire the imagination? Build civic culture? Or are we stuck talking to ourselves, confusing big storylines with incremental improvements in metrics?

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