Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Capacity of Story

John Dewey has left behind a story that I believe I might be able to re-introduce. In his story he told us that a participatory citizen requires a competence to tell and understand stories; also that we do not make it easy for students to learn, by making it difficult for teachers to learn. Participatory citizens in culture means it is possible for us to learn from the stories we tell each other. In culture there is no solo voice. “All human experience is social: it involves contact and communication” (Dewey, 1938, p. 38). Dewey would teach us that experience is a moving force, like a vine growing on top of itself.

Good teachers try to organize the conditions of experience for their students, they then allow their students to personalize their experience by re-tell their story in their own words. I would add that stories that teach, are re-created and co-constructed with each telling, in this way good teachers let the ‘experience’ be the teacher. Good teachers do not expect the future telling of a story with educative power to be the same as it was in the past telling. Teachers thus become the architects, designers or gardeners of learning rather than transmitters of a static finished product. Some call it lived experience.

Experience that educates (the story told in lived experience) is valued and judged by not only those remembering the event as the storyteller but also those who imagine themselves in the story as listeners. Stories that educate need to live. Dewey taught us that experience potentially is a teacher, but there will be no learning without the story of experience. How we access educative stories is dependent on our connection to each other, and our ability to listen is effected by our attentiveness to this connection. With our tools of technology we have built a structure around the earth. We live within it. As Marshal McLuhan (1968) expresses, the environment has become a technological thing. Nature is not separate or at war with technology, both are included in this environment. Our tools not only extend our humanity but also have become a place we live and connect. Good or bad we are now connected in a more powerful way. “We're just increasing our humanness and our ability to connect to each other regardless of geography" Case 2010. This technological environment is just helping us behave more ‘human-like’ in our storytelling ways. As humans, whether in an artist, scientist, or storyteller mode, it is unwise to disconnect from the tools we make, the value choices we make in their use and the experience we have with them.

We are a creative, curious, storytelling people. Should we think of stories as disconnected tools in teaching and learning or is it better to think of them as partners in learning? Can we really put down our creations once we have made them or do they come with us as we move in experiential learning? With this 'capacity' of story, what might happen if we make teachers storytellers? Could their story then become a teacher? What might happen if we bring together two voices that do not normally have common dialogue with each other, such as teachers and school reformers? What might I learn if I place myself between them?

This thinking was imagined while reading, “Letting Stories Breathe” by Arthur W. Frank and revisiting the following:

Case, A. (2011). We are all cyborgs now | Video on TED Talk, . Retrieved from

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York, NY, USA: Kappa Delta Pi.

McLuhan, M., and Mailer, N. (1968). Debate on CBC Television, . Retrieved from

Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes | Video on

The kind of experiential learning that this talk beautifully describes requires teachers to teach in a way that they have not experienced themselves either as students or in becoming a teachers.
So... I ask how do we (School) then make is easier for teachers to think of themselves as learners? How do we make is safe for them to fail?

Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes | Video on