The Power of Storytelling
Someday, maybe, I’ll work on my Doctorate, and I am fairly certain what my focus will be the power of storytelling. It’s been a subject I’ve researched for years. We are all narrative learners. I struggle with putting things in tidy boxes of informational versus narrative. I could make a case that all learning is information, or all learning is narrative. But it’s both.
And what makes us human, to me, is our need for a story. Perhaps elephants, dolphins, and whales tell their babies stories, and I know experience is certainly passed down. Unless of course, you’re an octopus–incredibly intelligent, but have no means of passing it along to the next generation. “Their knowledge dies with them.”
In Newkirk’s book, Minds Made for Stories, he explores the question of how knowledge is developed. It’s a fantastic read and supports my own instincts about the power of storytelling when it comes to any content area.
But why is this–in the vernacular of our times–even a thing? I detect a bias here, and ‘us versus them’ in the content area arenas.
Recently Wells Fargo caused outrage because of this ad campaign:
Because of public outcry, artists and actors protested and the ad campaign has been pulled. (Why can’t we do that to a certain presidential nominee?) Clearly, Wells Fargo jumped on the STEM bandwagon and forgot to add the rogue branch of the acronym, “A” — for Arts. This push toward only mathematics and science is dangerous, but I don’t think it’s a cause for outrage necessarily. But it is a place for a conversation: what do we value? What do we support — financially, socially, and emotionally? And what do we want to be when we grow up? Is there a bias of brains? Why do we constantly misdirect the topic, continually focused on the myth of left versus right brains? These fallacious and hollow debates about skills versus content, lecture versus ‘guide on the side.’ Enough. This is not the conversation to focus on, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
This simple fact — that knowing stuff is inseparable from being able to read stuff — is why great teaching will always be concerned with both skills and content. Sadly, since the majority of educators who implemented the Common Core State Standards did not read and reflect upon their introductory matter, it became popular (and fallacious) to declare that content isn’t what counts — skills are. In the CCSS era, there are no distinctions between science and social studies and English teachers anymore; we’re all reading teachers, right? And thus was won a great victory by champions of literacy everywhere!
Skills are important. But they are only one side of the story.
Here is the other side:
All we do as humans is based on a story we must tell. An adventure we seek, a problem to solve, our heart is breaking and we want to fix it. Someone is lost and we want to find them. Something or someone attacks our humanity and we want to slay the monster.
As you’re planning units, I urge you to look at your content through the lens of storytelling: what motivated the person to learn? What motivates you? What are your burning questions?
Remember this is not a zero-sum game. We can be ballerina scientists and athletic botanists. If you want to talk more about ideas you have or thinking about doing something amazing with stories and science/math, I’m here.