Epic stories (group story-telling)

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A problem:

At many schools, history class is shallow facts. It's frequently dull, and students (and teachers) often avoid deep engagement with it.

This means that students grow up disconnected from the wild diversity of real men and women whose experiences could expand their visions for what their lives could be. As a species, we crave to know what other people are really like: stripped of the chance to satisfy that need in school, students satisfy it in tabloid journalism and reality TV.

There's an alternate way to explore the lives of others, one employed in every culture that's ever managed to survive more than a single generation: stories. Through stories, we can experience how interesting other people really are. A story well told is as impossible to resist as sugar when you're hungry, or as a titillating bit of gossip.

Schools, however, don't make much use of professional storytelling.

Our basic plan:

Each week, teachers tell an epic story from history — one that's totally true, and totally captivating.

The story is broken up into four episodes, to be told Monday–Thursday. Each installment ends in a cliffhanger, and each begins in a recap of everything that's happened up 'til now.

These stories are told with the help of a curriculum that we'll be making. The stories will fit into our Big Spiral History progression — we'll spend a year in the ancient world, a year of the medieval world, a year of the modern world, and a year of the contemporary world. Then we'll go back to the beginning, and re-experience history from a more considered vantage point.

Each story will be planned with Kieran Egan's Imaginative Education framework — teachers will dive deep into the history, find what's most engaging, and tell the story with help of a cultural-cognitive tool.

(The curriculum we'll develop will give teachers guidance, suggesting certain research texts, and certain ways to unpack the story. Crucially, though, each teacher will breath life into the story with regards to their own struggles, hopes, and knowledge of the student.)

Our goals:

Virtually all kids in our schools will not only enjoy history, they'll care about it. They'll imaginatively enter the lives of other people far removed from them.

If you walk into our classrooms, you might see:

A whole class of kids leaning in as the teacher unfolds the latest episode in the life of Confucius, or the Empress Theodora, or Frederick Douglass, or Steve Jobs.

Some specific questions:

  • Is there a good general course in storytelling that our teachers could work through?
  • I'd love to have a team of professional historians, and a team of professional storytellers that we could occasionally get help from. Anyone know any of those whom we might approach?

Brandon Hendrickson

Seattle, WA