Please visit
for new posts


Friday, February 15, 2013

Wisdom of the Ages

"Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories."-Roger Schank

"The story ... is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding.  There have been great societies that did not  use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories."- Ursula Le Guin

"If stories come to you, care for them.  And learn to give them away where they are needed.  Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive."  Barry Lopez

Every experience except for this moment right now is a story.  Our life except for this moment right now is a story and nothing more.  Our sense of continuity of who we are, our identity that is, are the stories that we remember of our self interacting with the world.  The stories we tell ourselves and we tell each other define our world and how we make sense of it.  Our words and our actions are like the script we write for ourselves in the story we write of who we are.  Our stories either open up horizons or confine us to a limited set of choices.  Change our story of ourselves and we start to live differently.

Our stories intertwine and if we are open to each others stories we discover how much we have in common.  When we discover these common themes in each other's stories we open up even more and listen more deeply to those other stories because we know instinctively that there is much to learn from them.  Other people's stories are so important for us to reflect upon own our story.  It is safer and less threatening especially if our story becomes one that we don't like.  Other people's stories give us a safe and hopeful way of changing our life story for the better.

The less able we are to reflect on our story the more we become trapped inside of our own story.  We sadly make the often tragic assumption that we do not create our own story but that it just is-our story is reality-immutable, fixed, and imposed.   Ironically if we feel that we can't change our story, we often have to cling to the story; we confuse it with reality and then defend it at all costs.  Changing it becomes a threat.  Anything we are asked to change becomes a threat to us if we believe we can't change it.  Our stories, when we don't realize that they are stories, become our mistaken, fixed versions of reality which can easily compete other people's fixed reality.  Stories give hope and inspire; they are at the heart of true change.  When our lives are seen as fixed and we can't imagine the possibility of new stories, hope can die a slow death.

This is why storytelling is so central to the human experience.  We need to hear many stories to ultimately understand our own story,  so we can understand ourselves.  This is why it is frightening that the reform movement in schools is locked into the story that stories are not real and should be replaced by primarily with technical, scientific, and mathematic subject matter.  Ironically we have science, math and technology because humankind has changed the story of itself-discovered that the world can be discovered, understood and changed.  Every scientific discovery is an exciting human story.

When we value stories in education we are valuing our humanity and telling our children about their humanity.   I cannot think any lesson taught in a classroom on any level that could not be put into the context of a story.  Ask any person to think of a moment in his/her life that changed him/her and there would be an intriguing story to tell. The story would be  how that moment  is remembered and  internalized.  We all naturally desire to be pulled into a good story because we all want to hear how it turns out.  We want to hear how someone resolved a conflict, solved a problem, learned a lesson, was surprised, was transformed.  The best teachers are the ones that create the best stories-the stories that compel deep listening, that make connections, that inspire and become internalized.  This is how these teachers influence lives.

The best teachers who influence their students lives do not have to invest time and energy in controlling them every minute.   Ask someone to tell a story about a teacher who influenced him/her and I highly doubt that the person would say it was the teacher who gave him/her the most stickers, tokens, or any type of reward.

The experience of learning should be an adventure story where students are the listeners and the actors at the same time.  Schools should be places of learning, places filled with adventure stories that kids want to and need to hear.  If educators could start to believe in the power of stories and view education as such an adventure, then all the time and energy spent trying to get kids to learn, would no longer be necessary.  (Do kids have to be bribed to see a PIXAR movie?)   Is there a reason why teaching and learning cannot be this way?  The better question would be how come teaching and learning in schools have drifted so far away from its human roots.  How come the wisdom of the ages (the value of stories) no longer  seems to apply to  learning in schools?  Maybe the reason why we seem to need to control the kids in schools is because we as educators have forgotten the wisdom of the ages. Maybe we as educators should reflect on how we need to change rather then how the kids need to change. Maybe educators need to reflect on the hidden stories they are telling themselves (all sadly our children)  about what teaching and learning is really all about.  Let's tap into the wisdom of the ages available and waiting for us today.

No comments: