In Search of Stories: Lessons from Our Lives (2023)

In Search of Stories: Lessons from Our Lives (1)

Editor's Note: This article is a chapter from Linda Christensen's new bookrethink schoolBook,Teachings of joy and justice:Reinventing the language arts classroom🇧🇷 If this article inspires you to research stories, the book includes student examples and additional resources.order or readAbout the book.

In 1982, Toni Cade Bambara said during an interview with Kay Bonetti: "When I look at my work from a distance, two qualities strike me: the enormous capacity for laughter, but also the enormous capacity for anger." Both sentiments are submerged in stories from his collection.dear gorilla🇧🇷 Her narrators are often daring young African-American women whose perceptions of what it means to be black and poor in American society make the reader laugh, but also seethe with quiet rage that such inequalities exist in a country that promises justice. I originally taught Toni Cade Bambara's story "The Lesson" to help my freshmen and seniors at Jefferson discover and write about the lessons they learned about race, class, gender, and sexual identity, but how to teach them to a group. at Jefferson Young Men's Academy, I learned to change and adjust classes while listening to their stories. So this “lesson” is about what I taught, but also what I learned from these young men about what it means to grow up as a man in our society.

In this story, a polite neighbor, Miss Moore, rounds up the neighborhood children, including Sylvia, the smart and witty black girl who tells the story, and takes them on a field trip. Miss Moore was at university and "said it was only fair that she should take responsibility for the children's education." In this story, Miss Moore takes Sylvia and the other children to an FAO Schwarz toy store on 5th Avenue in New York. Sylvia learns a lesson about money: who has it and who doesn't. The children resent Miss Moore for interfering with her summer vacation and her educational plans. "And she was always planning these boring things for us since we're mostly my cousins ​​who lived down the block because we all moved north at the same time and into the same apartment and then gradually drifted apart to breathe." The children walk into the store and wonder why anyone would pay $1,000 for a toy sailboat or $35 for a clown, which makes Sylvia think:

For thirty-five dollars you could buy new bunk beds for Junior and Gretchen's son. Thirty-five dollars and the whole family could visit Grandpa Nelson in the country. Thirty-five dollars would pay both the rent and the piano bill. Who are these people who spend so much on clowns and $1,000 on toy sailboats? What kind of work do they do and how do they live and why aren't we there? Where we are is who we are, Miss Moore always insists. But she doesn't have to be like that, she always adds she, and then she waits for someone to say that the poor people should wake up and claim their share of the pie, and none of us know what kind of pie she's talking about in the first place. . place.

Miss Moore provides the kind of education that happens when students are faced with real world problems. When the curriculum, instead of cleaning up the past and excluding the present, holds up a mirror of the lives of the students so that the inequality and injustice that the students experience begins to be breathed in the classroom, the students wake up. Bayard Rustin, the architect of the March on Washington, searched for trouble spots to publicize racism in our society. This narrative task looks for those places in students' lives where pain and anger boil over so that they can be discussed and not suppressed or denied.

Read "The Lesson" and find stories

I taught this storytelling assignment to Darryl Miles' class at Jefferson Young Men's Academy, a group of mostly African-American freshmen, with one Latino, one Asian, and two whites. Before the students read the story, I shared with them some lessons I had learned over the years. And as I tried to think of the big ideas, the sticking points, I started off weak. Also, I was a white woman, a visiting professor visiting her class. In my first list, I clumsily tried to show that we're constantly learning lessons we've filed away without even realizing it, but every lesson we learn begins with an experience we could tell a story about: "I learned not to touch hot things." stoves, I've learned not to brake too hard riding my bike up steep hills, and I've learned to stay away from my dad when he's drinking. Take a few minutes to reflect on the lessons you've learned over the years and make a quick list."

My list was short and wrong, and their initial list of lessons mimicked mine, sounding like aphorisms they'd rehearsed and elicited for visiting teachers. Some went deeper and let me hear the story behind the headline: trust your gut. Wear a helmet. listening to the elders Think before you talk. countryforevergain. Don't expect money, earn it. Some things you want you never get. Don't drive your bike fast on a paved road. Always say "sorry" when you pass someone, especially my dad. Never lie to your parents when they can catch you.

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Before beginning to read the story aloud, I asked her to think about Bambara's title. "Why did the author call this 'The Lesson'? What lessons are the characters learning and who or what is teaching them?" After we finished reading, I asked the students to write about the lessons that Sylvia had learned in the story. The students had a hard time coming up with an answer. Josh said, "Never go on a hike with Mrs. Moore," which was funny, but clearly wasn't where I wanted to be. Another student said, "Sylvia learned not to judge a book by its cover." Another maxim. "What does that mean?" I asked him. He denied with his head. Hmm. No one had raised their hand. Kris broke the awkward silence: "She has learned to behave in public." They tried to accommodate me and it didn't work.

“What are you learning about money?” It was clear that she needed to lead the conversation more. But this turned out to be one of those painful classroom moments where the teacher has her answers and the students reluctantly try to save her, guessing wildly to end her humiliation.

Josh said, "He realizes that some people have enough money to buy fancy boats, while others don't have enough money to feed their children."

"Does she think that's correct?" I asked the class.

"No, but some people work harder than others, so some people have more money than others," Mitchell added. The boys continued in this way. Those who work hard get ahead.

I knew that the students didn't believe that all the inequality they saw and experienced could be explained simply by saying "some people work more than others," but I hadn't gotten it right.

"Let me ask you this. Public education is the right of every student in Oregon, isn't it? But when I go to different schools in the suburbs, I just don't feel the same way. One school I go to regularly has computers and couches in the library; there are computers in the hallways. They are open and available to all students. Is this?"

"No. Jefferson is never treated well." As soon as I came across an area where students were experiencing bias, they started talking. "When we tell someone we're going to Jefferson's house, his face changes and he leaves or says something about us." The conversation moved very quickly from inequality, and talking about the popular perception of Jefferson was silly, but the students were enthusiastic. I continued this conversation because I thought it might lead to lessons and stories about inequality.


"And why this?" I asked.

“Because people think we are gang members. And they believe all the rumors.

“People see Jeff as a lower-class school. I feel like I have to prove I'm smart," Josh said. This upset the boys. Apparently, they all shared this experience.

"What other lessons did you learn that way?"

"I've learned that because I'm mixed race, some kids treat me differently. My dad is black and my mom is white, and kids say things," Dylan said.

“They follow me to the stores. They always think boys steal," added Mark.

"Is there a place in history where people are not treated fairly?"

D'Anthony said, "Yeah, when he talks about democracy. When Sugar says, 'If you ask me, it's not much of a democracy. Equal opportunity in the pursuit of happiness means equal loss of mass. Look, not everyone has the same opportunities. Right.

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The term "class" was too far out for the boys; they lived but did not see. And especially after Barack Obama's inauguration, these students kept hearing that "anyone can win if they work hard and just believe." "If we can!" everyone has heard it several times. It took them more than one story to understand the concept of social class, but they did understand inequality based on school and race.

I tried to switch task to racing because I thought I might get more traction. “Let me tell you a story about the first time I learned to run. My black neighbors in Eureka, California, had to get written permission from each neighbor to buy his house. It's called redlining and it also happened in Portland. Look blank. The Laurelhurst community gates here, which excluded colored families, must have seemed as remote as slavery. My story did not provoke any reaction from the students.

Adding Student Templates: Outdoor School Lessons and Moment in Time

I decided to brainstorm the idea of ​​unearthing the stories behind the "lessons" we carry with us, rather than focusing on specific lessons about race and class, to get the big idea of ​​the lesson first through their stories. I read them the story Lessons from the Outdoor School by Khalilah Joseph (available in Teaching for Joy and Righteousness) because it provides an accessible model for students as they begin to reflect on the lessons they have learned. Every sixth grader in the Portland area spends a week at Outdoor School, an environmental education program located at various campgrounds along the Sandy River near Mount Hood. High school, junior, and senior students return as "student leaders," and after a short but intense training session, become soil, water, or animal experts for their sixth-grade campers. And they miss a week of school. (Unless they're super campers like my daughter Gretchen, who returned as a student leader twice a year during her sophomore, junior, and senior years.) Most student leaders are white. When Khalilah and Romla, two African-American students, came to the woods as student leaders, they felt like strangers. Khalilah's deft recounting of how that has changed is a charming and funny testament to our ability to transcend differences.

I asked the youth what Khalilah had learned, and Mark responded, "Don't judge a book by its cover." "What does that mean?"

"She thought all white people were the same and she didn't want to be around them. When she was having fun with them, she stopped judging them," Josh said.

"Okay, has that happened to you? Have you ever been judged by someone or judged someone else? Think about it. Khalilah wrote this as her class story when she was a student at Jefferson. Start making a list of stories you could write.

Luckily, the doorbell rang and I was reminded of a story my student Kirk Allen had written about walking on the same side of the street as a white woman. It was around midnight and Kirk was coming home from a party that the police had ruled out. The woman walked onto Kirk's front porch, not knowing it was her house, and she pulled out pepper spray and a knife. She told him to stop following her; she threatened to call the police; she accused him of merging with darkness. Kirk ends his story: “There are goals. No, delete it. There are young whites, blacks and masculine”. It had a video clip of Kirk reading the story, followed by his colleagues recounting similar events. When I showed the clip the next day, the students finally found the stories about him.

This story finding experience reminded me of the importance of clues, but also the importance of staying with the children until they find their stories. If I had pushed the students to write too early in the process, they would not have found their passion, that place of anger and laughter that Bambara spoke of in her interview. Each of the models showed the students how a writer told the story of their "lesson." These young people only needed a story to unravel theirs.

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Josh said, "I know what you're talking about. A fight broke out between these two kids at school. They all decided to take him off the school grounds to a park, but as soon as the fight started, a passing man called the police .As soon as the police arrived everyone started running. I was not involved in the fight so my friend and I just walked to the bus stop and waited for the bus. There were a lot of white students there too. The police held us back my friend and I up against the wall and searched us. We were targeted because we were black.” How many times have I heard stories like this from black students during my years in Jefferson, post-racial America?

This led to a flurry of stories in the same vein. Ultimately, they wrote about lessons that fell into two categories: think before you speak or act stories and what Dylan called "This Society Is Hijacked" stories. I was impressed by the honesty of the boys and their willingness to be vulnerable. I attribute this to the stories we read and our conversations, but also to Darryl Miles, his teacher, who exemplifies these attributes by sharing his own stories with them. His writing raised issues that required attention beyond revising the narrative elements, despite students writing and reviewing their stories.

After the students identified a story for me, I distributed the Narrative Criteria sheet (available atTeachings of joy and justice) and colored markers. Students highlighted Khalilah's dialogue, blocks, and descriptions of characters and settings so they could get an idea of ​​what to include in their stories. We then moved on to a guided visualization that provided a gateway into silent writing time.

Write, review and learn together

As we gathered in a circle to read our stories to each other, I asked the students to listen to the lesson each writer had learned. Josh wrote about a time when he did something "stupid" to fit in. He was between two groups, trying to be someone he wasn't. Back then, I would do anything to join a certain group.” He went on to tell a story about how he brought knives to school, got arrested, and paid the price. "After it was over, I owed my parents $1,000 in court costs. This was the worst mistake of my life. I made my mom cry, and if you did that, you know how bad she feels.

After discussing what they liked about Josh's story, his peers identified his lesson as learning the price of betraying yourself to fit in. They raised their hand. Jay's story provided similar content. A friend asked her to steal a sweater for him at Macy's, and Jay did. When a security guard tackled Jay, pinned him to the ground and handcuffed him, Jay's friend walked by as if he didn't know him. Like Josh, Jay admitted that he was trying to be someone he wasn't and paid the price for that mistake, but he learned a valuable lesson about stealing, but also about trusting his own instincts instead of trying to to fit in.

Kirk's story ignited Dylan and Tony's, particularly the last line about "black young male targets." They told stories about how the rules were different for blacks and whites. Dylan recounted a jubilant night after winning a basketball game, staying up late with friends, playing a "druggie race" in which they did about 25 laps, and then trying to run down the street. The opening of his story contained humorous detail and youthful hilarity, and the ending was full of rage: Bambara's dual emotions:

When we got to the end of the block, the cops pulled over and I figured there was going to be trouble. When a police officer and a white police officer see two black teenagers staggering down the street, it all starts badly. The policemen got out of the car and approached us and asked us if we knew what time it was.

I said, "Yeah, it's 11:45." I reached into my pocket for my ID. Without hesitation, the officer pulls the gun from him and points it at my head. At this point I don't know what to do. I'm frozen, I'm speechless.
My friends are yelling at the police officer and saying, "What are you doing?" The policeman insults them. Tears of anger well up in my eyes and burn my cheeks. 🇧🇷 🇧🇷 🇧🇷

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After the policeman leaves, I walk down the street armed with my rage, turning the corner and bumping into one of John's neighbors. When I look at him, I imagine the policeman and walk away. I hit him twice until he fell off. Johnny came and took me off. I didn't sleep that night.

And the lessons? Unequal treatment for blacks? Target of black men? Or as Dylan wrote, "This society is messed up"? As Dylan read his story, I thought about what it means to be 15 years old and hold a gun to the head of someone with the authority of a police officer and a society that allows that story to be repeated over and over again. I thought of the cold roundness of that metal on that boy's beautiful temple. I thought of Dylan's righteous anger, misdirected at a neighbor. I thought of the suspension and expulsion rates for students of color and Daniel Beaty's poem about "the lost luster of the black men who populate these [prison] cells." And I knew that a lesson that I take with me is my moral obligation to take this injustice, this cradle of anger and rage, expose it and validate the experiences of the students. But in unleashing that kind of anger and pain, I also have a moral obligation to teach students how to navigate a society that discriminates against them, and how people have worked to change those injustices.


What are some life lessons in stories? ›

Life lessons from classic novels
  • Don't judge a book by its cover.
  • It's good to be passionate, but don't be obsessive.
  • Don't be afraid to fall in love.
  • Appreciate the simple things in life.
  • Don't compare yourself to others.
Oct 12, 2017

Why are stories that teach us lessons important? ›

Good stories do more than create a sense of connection. They build familiarity and trust, and allow the listener to enter the story where they are, making them more open to learning. Good stories can contain multiple meanings so they're surprisingly economical in conveying complex ideas in graspable ways.

How do stories teach us lessons? ›

Stories are a powerful way of communicating ideas; they signpost our experiences, make sense of what we know, and create continuity. We learn by both hearing and telling stories and practicing through stories.

What element of the story teaches us valuable lessons in life? ›

The Theme is also

the practical lesson ( moral) that we learn from a story after we read it. The lesson that teaches us what to do or how to behave after you have learned something from a story or something that has happened to you.

What are some life changing lessons? ›

27 Life Changing Lessons to Learn from Eckhart Tolle
  • The present moment is the most precious thing there is. ...
  • Wherever you are, be there totally. ...
  • Always say “yes” to the present moment. ...
  • Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. ...
  • Don't take life so seriously.

Why are stories so powerful? ›

Stories appeal to our senses and our emotions, not only drawing our attention more easily, but also leaving an impact on us as audiences. This makes storytelling powerful in delivering any message. If you deliver a story right, as evidenced throughout history, it might last a lifetime.

What are 3 benefits of story telling? ›

The benefits of storytelling
  • Cultural understanding. Telling stories allows children to experience different worlds, countries, and traditions. ...
  • Communication. ...
  • Curiosity and imagination. ...
  • Focus and social skills.

What is the power of story telling? ›

The art of powerful storytelling

Everyone has stories to tell, but storytelling is a skill that can be developed and as a tool it can be used to powerful effect. Developed and used purposefully, storytelling can contribute to inclusion and connection, build confidence, and bring about change.

How does stories shape our minds? ›

Effective stories cause us to feel emotions. Emotions heighten our ability to memorize experiences and thus help improve information processing. Stories make it easier for our brains to store data for later retrieval. Emotions are a signal to the brain that whatever we are experiencing is important.

How stories help us connect? ›

When we witness someone else's vulnerability in a safe and supportive environment, we feel less alone, and often just plain better. Stories connect us as human beings and build bonds between us. We need them now more than ever.

What are moral lessons? ›

A moral (from Latin morālis) is a message that is conveyed or a lesson to be learned from a story or event. The moral may be left to the hearer, reader, or viewer to determine for themselves, or may be explicitly encapsulated in a maxim. A moral is a lesson in a story or in real life.

What important lessons of life do we learn from the story the address? ›

The Address by Marga Minco revolves around the theme of crisis that we, as an individual encounter in our daily life. War brings destruction, pain, and loss of lives which impact humans in various ways. However, this story speaks about the narrator and mother's life how they are disrupted due to war.

What is the central message of a story? ›

The central message of a story is basically the main idea, or the point that the author wants the reader to take away from the story.

What is a story that teaches a lesson called? ›

A fable is a short story that illustrates a moral lesson. The plot of a fable includes a simple conflict and a resolution, followed by a maxim. Fables feature anthropomorphized animals and natural elements as main characters.

What are the 8 life lessons? ›

These eight life lessons (choice, opportunity, action, knowledge, wealth, brand, community, persistence), can be applied to every aspect of our lives.

What are 3 types of lessons? ›

Types of lessons

A lesson may range from a lecture, to a demonstration, to a discussion or a blend of some of these common presentation methods.

What are the 7 steps in changing your life? ›

How To Change Your Life In 7 Steps
  1. Stop Making Excuses. Excuses are what hold you back, and they are almost always the only thing between you and your goal. ...
  2. Set Goals. ...
  3. Create A Routine. ...
  4. Hold Yourself Accountable. ...
  5. Track Your Progress. ...
  6. Failure Is Integral To Success. ...
  7. Exercise.
Oct 27, 2016

How do stories control our lives? ›

Stories allow us to make sense out of otherwise puzzling or random events. "Stories help us smooth out some of the decisions we have made and create something that is meaningful and sensible out of the chaos of our lives," says McAdams. Our stories can also shape our future, researchers have found.

Why do stories inspire people? ›

Storytelling illustrates the path forward.

They help people imagine something that they haven't thought of before, or help them see what they want in a new light. Stories help people believe in possibility, help them recommit to their vision, and inspire them to take action.

Why is storytelling meaningful? ›

Key points. Listening to others' stories helps us tell our own stories in new ways. Storytelling is one of the pillars of building a meaningful life because stories are, at heart, about meaning and connection. Family storytelling weaves lives of connection, meaning, and purpose.

What are two purposes of storytelling? ›

Storytelling comes down to two things – connection and engagement. And when we look at it from this perspective, we have many more opportunities to use storytelling to create influence, affect change and move big ideas forward.

What is the most important thing in storytelling? ›

Plot. The plot is the most important part of any story. It defines what story is all about. What the audience will experience.

What are the 5 P's of storytelling? ›

In this discussion, Clayton expressed a formulaic way to tell the story of your brand or organization. Consider People, Place, Pictures, Platforms & Personal. Using these elements allows you to reconnect your brand with its values and help showcase them in an authentic and mindful way.

What are the four pillars of storytelling? ›

It turns out there are four pillars underlying all great stories: relatability, novelty, tension, and fluency.

What are the 4 P's of storytelling? ›

Learn about the art of storytelling from the folks at Stillmotion, starting with the four P's of storytelling: People, Place, Plot, and Purpose.

What are the 3 C's of storytelling? ›

There is a 3C's model for compelling storytelling:
  • Character - There are very few stories that can be recited without having a character in them. ...
  • Conflict - This is something that builds tension and induces surprises for the audience. ...
  • Conclusion - When the conflict ends, we conclude.
Mar 22, 2022

Why do stories move us? ›

In the brain, maintaining attention produces signs of arousal: the heart and breathing speed up, stress hormones are released, and our focus is high. Once a story has sustained our attention long enough, we may begin to emotionally resonate with story's characters.

Why stories are more powerful than you think? ›

Stories make it meaningful.

When we hear a story we have a greater context and understanding of a situation. Stories can personalize a message and make us feel a part of the situation. Use stories to create meaning for people. However, remember, not everyone will have exactly the same meaning.

How can stories inspire people to change? ›

People are wired to respond emotionally to change, therefore stories can help coherently communicate the narrative for change. When listening to stories, our brains release oxytocin which makes audiences more compassionate. Leaders who deliver compelling stories make them catchy, impactful, authentic and simple.

What is the power of personal story? ›

Personal narratives are powerful. They are developed through a mixture of experiences & personality and they create the lens through which we see the world. Our personal narratives tell us what we can and cannot do. They tell us how we expect to be treated.

What are the benefits of moral stories? ›

Moral stories are the best way to teach your child moral values and life lessons. It not only teaches a child moral values but also inculcates good manners, social behavior, and respect for elders. Each and every story leaves a very good message which helps the child to understand in the easiest way.

Why good stories are important? ›

Stories are magic, they can create other worlds, emotions, ideas and make the everyday seem incredible. They can teach us empathy and take us on terrific journeys. They can make us laugh, cry, jump with fright and then comfort us with a happy ending.

What is another word for learning lesson? ›

Some synonyms for the word 'lesson' are: class, session, seminar, tutorial, teaching, period, study, task, lecture, practice, instruction, exercise, task, and reading.

What is another word for teach a lesson? ›

Some common synonyms of teach are discipline, educate, instruct, school, and train. While all these words mean "to cause to acquire knowledge or skill," teach applies to any manner of imparting information or skill so that others may learn.


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