Paul Bogush has a recent blog about storytelling and I couldn’t resist discussing it here. I think my teaching is at its finest when I am telling relevant and compelling stories. Stories speak to the heart, and I think it may be a skill that is in short supply.
My online friend Barbara Nicolosi has made a career of telling stories, and helping others tell their stories better in the storytelling capital of the world, Hollywood. It is what separates the truly great films from the rest. Paul relates in his blog an idea that is Barbara’s mantra. Great storytellers never tell the audience what to think. According to Barbara, it is the failure of following this principle that gets most Christian filmmakers into trouble. In fact, she has argued that secular filmmakers often do a better job of making Christian films than professed Christians do. For some reason, Christian films can’t ever seem to resist the urge to tell you what to think.
One of Barbara’s favorite writers is Flannery O’Connor, who wrote often morbid tales that leave you thinking. Each story contains a moment of grace for the protagonist, and often this moment of grace is rejected. The author leaves it to the reader to ponder the implications of rejecting grace and redemption. When storytellers do this, they respect the intelligence of the audience. But all too often, this principle is ignored.
This semester, I taught a class in social media technology that essentially was one story after another about the power and pitfalls of the new communications medium. We learned about people who have amassed fortunes through blogging and tweeting online, as well as unfortunate souls who have lost their ability to make a living because of their missteps online. Most of the time, we discussed these stories together in class and I was able to let students reach their own conclusions without explicitly giving them the moral of the story, but I have to admit, there is a powerful urge to do just that.
There seems to be a perception that teachers aren’t doing their job if they aren’t telling you what to think. I would simply rather help my students to do quality thinking. Believe what you believe, but be sure your reasoning is sound.
I think storytelling is becoming a lost art in the classroom. So much these days is prescribed. So much is formulaic. But if you’re creative, I think even the most rigidly defined curriculum still has room for stories.
I will end this with a question. How do you use storytelling in your teaching? If you don’t currently, as a thought exercise, what is one possible way you could use storytelling while teaching the subject you teach?