Stories matter

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.” – Philip Pullman

Those words have stayed with me since my first encounter with them many years ago. Even in my postgraduate classroom, I find that a good yarn (even one with a purpose behind it) gets the students listening and responding with much more enthusiasm than I have been able to generate with the most interesting theory. Stories are magical, but they also give us an extremely intimate way of understanding the world we live in. I think one of the reasons for this is that we allow ourselves to enter into a story and experience it from the inside, while with many other forms of learning/teaching, we find ourselves on the outside, waiting for the knowledge to come in, or be pulled in!

When we decided to devote our December issue to storytelling, we were just a little bit worried about whether we would be able to get a diverse range of articles – articles that went beyond the use of stories in primary school, or which looked at stories outside the language class in middle and high school. As our final compendium shows, however, we were able to draw in a number of ideas from many different viewpoints. While the majority still focus on junior classes, several of our contributors (and storytellers) have looked further afield both in terms of subject and approach.

Unlike many other teaching/learning tools, stories require very few resources to rustle up. All you need is an active imagination and perhaps a few odds and ends, and voila! You have the ingredients to start. If the story can be built interactively, even better. Those who have access to digital tools and to the Internet can think about working on a collaborative story using a platform like Wikipedia. In fact, digital storytelling (using a variety of media) is an exciting new way of organizing and ultimately, presenting it, and disseminating it.

Listening to stories also develops a skill that we are all gradually forgetting, of paying close attention to what people are saying. In a story, the words are only a part of the picture. How the words are spoken, the inflexions of voice and the pauses, are all important markers to understanding. Storytelling builds the related skills of reading, speaking, and listening.

But apart from being these wonderful teaching tools, stories have another major advantage – they are plain and simple fun!

Guest Editorial

Bringing back stories into education

Stories are endless. Millions of years ago from silence came sounds, movement, elements tagging along the stories of the universe. When man began to perceive he listened to the cosmos and intuitively began to narrate stories.

Stories became a tool to make learning easy, interesting, and joyful. But slowly with time man moved from simple narratives to more analytical and complicated discourses. Today, we have a thousand gadgets to communicate, yet we fail in the basic skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. This special edition devoted to storytelling is a reminder to connect once more with our roots and to take another look at the entire education system, which has moved from knowledge based learning to information based knowledge. We have evolved from a silent world to a noisy one, listening only to the click of buttons and sounds that make the heart beat and resonate to unnatural surroundings.

We owe it to our children to restore their childhood and innocence by reviving our stories and storytelling forms. Parents, teachers, and adults need to equip themselves once again and tell stories to young adults. Spend at least 15-30 minutes a day at home and the classroom to tell stories. You will find that you have bestowed the best gift to your children for they will never forget the stories you tell them. I don’t remember anything from my science or history books but what I remember and recall today are the stories that I listened to from my parents.

When I began to teach children through stories whether it was about lollipops or giants, they listened and learnt. I remember a child from first grade who loved to listen to my squirrel stories. He is now an animal behaviour scientist and specializes in squirrels and their behaviour. So a tiny seed of thought planted in the child’s mind can go a long way.

This issue is about storytelling in education, as a cultural tool, and how teachers can equip themselves in the art of storytelling and why one needs to take storytelling as a serious tool of communication and learning. You will find it interesting to know that storytelling is not just an educational tool, but also a medium that helps develop life skills.

Enjoy telling your stories!

The universe is made up of stories….not atoms.

Geeta Ramanujam

The house of stories

Geeta is one of the founders of Kathalaya – an academy of storytelling in Bangalore. Kathalaya was established in 1998 with a dual purpose – to make concepts and subject learning interesting through stories and to acquaint teachers with the science of proper articulation – voice, body language, pronunciation, communication, and public speaking skills. From its inception, Kathalaya has worked towards making storytelling a part of the school curriculum.

With the help of experts from the field of academics and art, Geeta designed a course that combines story arts and story education for holistic learning. Kathalaya is also launching Story Space (learning centres) in schools. These learning centres are envisioned to become hubs of learning without encouraging competition and violence and without being preachy or moralistic.

For more details on Kathalaya programmes log on to www.kathalaya.org.