Human struggle captivates us. Even though it grieves us, we're drawn to seeing stories of human suffering.
This is, in fact, a deep truth of good storytelling:
"A story's job is to put the protagonist through tests that, even in her wildest dreams,
she doesn't think she can pass."
– Lisa Cron, Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence
Perhaps this is because stories evolved as a sort of "virtual reality" — we're enthralled by stories because they allow us to engage through our imaginations experiences we'll someday have to engage with our lives.
The great kid's movies understand that kids crave tragedy. Toy Story wrestles with the fear of obsolescence. Land Before Time? The death of a parent. Babe? Death.
The world is, of course, full of tragedy. It's also full of hope.
The K–12 curriculum, however, often snips out tragedy. This leads to a few deleterious effects:
- School is less interesting. (We're ignoring low-hanging fruit for holding kids' attention.)
- School is less meaningful. (We're ignoring the real promise of studying social studies and the humanities.)
- School is less real. (We're shutting out much of the world.)
- School doesn't build students' psychological immune systems. (We're graduating people emotionally unprepared for the world.)
Our basic plan:
Bring tragedy into schools through stories.
Tell some stories that end poorly for the protagonist.
Tell lots of stories that end well for the protagonist, but which force them to pass through tragedy in the meantime. Use tragedy to point students to hope.
Adults who aren't oblivious to the world's suffering.
Adults who can face the world's suffering without collapsing into depression, and without pretending that all suffering can be solved simply.
Adults who are aware of what has worked in the past to alleviate suffering, and of what some of the best options are for alleviating it now: adults aligned with hope.
If you walk into a classroom, you might see:
In Big Spiral History, the stories of people who encountered tragedy, and vowed to alleviate it — people like Albert Schweitzer and the Buddha and Norman Borlaug.
In literature, the stories of people who failed — and others who succeeded.
How young can we start this at? Should we declare a moratorium on darkness in grade school? Or is this precisely when kids most need to be acclimated to darkness?
(This idea is currently in beta! If you've thoughts on how to make it better, please shoot an e-mail to Brandon at email@example.com.)
To Learn More:
"How to Land Your Kid in Therapy", by Lori Gottlieb, from The Atlantic.