What Kind of People We Become Depends Crucially On the Stories We Are Nurtured On *

January 28, 2010

Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks.
• Will and Ariel Durant

Steven Spielberg said that people have forgotten how to tell a story. I don’t agree, although I understand that this brief quotation I’ve written down on a 3×5 card several years ago is probably taken out of context. Still, it makes me think. I hear stories every day in the hallways at school. I overhear stories about love and fear and anger and despair. I hear stories about kindness and bad judgment. I listen to stories as the students with whom I work talk about their teaching experiences. I hear the joy of connection in some of their stories. I hear frustration and reflection as the stories of strategies and lessons that didn’t work turn into questions about what to do next time. I am steeped in stories.

I can, of course, offer the cold comfort of theory to my students. I am a teacher educator and this is stuff I know. One of my students told me he thought my class would be the place to get the right answers to all his classroom questions. I wish that this were so. My job would be much easier if I were the right answer gal. I am not. I can provide a multiplicity of approaches that a novice teacher might use. I can recommend lots of strategies. But my stories and the stories of other students are the most powerful tools. They bring the theory to life and they remind us of the idiosyncrasies of human interaction. The stories we choose to tell reveal what we value and who we are as educators.

Sometimes the stories we share are personal. Here’s one of my favorite family stories. It’s about some cousins of ours at the end of the nineteenth century. These folks were poor farmers barely scraping by on land that was worn out. They managed to feed themselves but couldn’t manage to do much else. They were sinking further and further into debt and were about to lose the farm. Then oil was found on their land. Not a lot. Not enough to make them really rich, but enough to alleviate their financial worries and enable them to buy more land and farm comfortably. They did a couple of other things with their money, though. They didn’t take exotic trips or buy fancy clothes or other stuff you might think the newly-rich would crave. No. They gave other family members, including my grandparents, money for a trip, and they built a carousel on their land. A full-size round-and-round-with-music-and-wooden-horses-prancing-up-and-down merry-go-round. And they invited the town to come and enjoy it.

This whimsical story resonates with me. I research fun in learning. My office is filled with things that make me smile. I live in The House of Stuff, home to The Amuseum of Un-Natural History. I was doing all these things long before I heard this story from Aunt Mildred, but once she told it to me I felt at home, kin to people I’ve never met who provide a context for my ways. I am well aware that this is all a bit of romanticizing poppycock, but that doesn’t make it any less delightful to me.

Our stories are inextricably linked to who we are and to what we value. What stories do you tell about yourself? About your family? What do you learn from your stories that helps you find direction for your life? What stories help explain you to you?

The word “story” is short for the word “history.” The both have the same root and fundamentally mean the same thing. A story is a narrative on an event or series of events, just like history.
• James M. Kouzes

Telling a true story about personal experience is not just a matter of being oneself, or even finding oneself. It is also a matter of choosing oneself.
• Harriet Goldhor Lerner

Tell a story from your life that illuminates a crucial aspect of your character.

I don’t know any family that doesn’t have a story anywhere. Besides, if you didn’t have those things in life, you’d be so bland.
• Orlando Bloom

* Title quotation is from Chinweizu, Nigeria

I’m off to a conference. I’ll be writing and posting when I can.



  1. The brief story I’d like to share actually occurred while I was student teaching in his sixth grade class. I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was entering the last semester of my student teaching and I was almost done with the Elementary Education Teaching Program at HSU. I had worked extremely hard throughout my collegiate career. Not only did I always carry a full load (at least 12 credits), but I also worked at least four or five days a week at a local pub and restaurant. This was the Spring of 2003 and I was preparing to take over the 6th grade class and do my “two week solo” where I took over the class.
    The phone rang and it was out of the ordinary that it was for me. My wife was on the other line and she seemed a little distraught. We had been together for close to five years and my daughter Mia was nine months old. She uttered the words, “I’m pregnant.” I was being supportive, but I thought it must be some kind of a mistake. We were actually taking a natural family planning childbirth course that was instructed by the doctor that delivered my daughter.
    *excerpt from assignment #5

  2. When I was 38 (1996)I received a letter from “The Round Valley Indian Reservation”. I had never heard of them. I opened it and inside was a check for $150. made out to me, member #17 of the Yuki tribe living descendant of my grandmother Florence Aver.
    *Beginning of Assignment #5, A Story from my Life.

  3. Liza Holland
    ED 507
    July 9, 2010
    Assignment #5

    “My Great-Grams”

    There are so many stories that inspire me and make me the person I am today. The one that holds dear to me are the stories of my Great-Grams. I have thought a lot about Gram Hoffine more lately since my Nana just lost her brother, my Great-Uncle, Bruce.

    She was a lady that I knew for nearly 13 years of my life. She was a tough, hard-working gal. Before I was born and until I was 4 years old, she would get up by 4 o’clock, 2 to 3 times a week, to go to the Dairy Queen and Leon’s Burger Place to prep the chicken for the day. It was not an easy job! Nearly 30 pounds of chicken needed to be rinsed and dried. Then they were coated individually with flour, oil, and seasonings. They were placed on trays and cooled in the walk-in to await the orders. She worked until she was done which varied between 2 to 6 hours. She was over 70 years old when she stopped working because my grandparents sold the restaurants.

    She gave me good memories of visits to her house. She had jars filled with candies on her kitchen table. While she talked with our mom, my sister and I would pick something from each jar. She always had flavored tootsie rolls like vanilla, orange, lime, and lemon. There was usually Peanut M&Ms and some type of hard candies like peppermint or butterscotch. She would eat some candy with us too!

    I feel lucky to have these memories of my Gram Hoffine. Of course I realize how lucky I am today to have known 3 out of my 4 Great-Grandmas. Each one has a wonderful memory to share.

  4. Excerpt from Assignment 5-
    The coach wasn’t playing me where I wanted to play, so I took it upon myself to quit the team after practice one day! It didn’t matter that I was in the 7th grade and my parents were over involved in all of my sports teams. After all, how can one event be so important as to create a personality for one’s entire life?

  5. This is an exerpt from my memories of first grade that contributed to the person I am becoming.

    Lyn Farrer
    ED 507 Story from my life

    Leslie is perfect. Blond, big blue eyes, and beautiful. Perfect like a picture. She has socks to match every dress and they never fall down. Her knees have never known a Band-Aid. My mom made me bloomers to match every dress so when I twirl and play on the monkey bars I don’t have to worry about my underwear showing. Leslie doesn’t have to worry.
    “Open your books to page one. Leslie, I see your name in the story! Why don’t you read?” Mrs. Hill says. Mrs. Hill never sees my name in a story. I eagerly follow along reading. Leslie stumbles on a word.

  6. Assignment #5 Excerpt

    “Why I must eat everything on my plate!”

    If you ask my husband, “What is one thing that annoys you about Karla?” He would say, “She eats everything off her plate because she feels like she has to. Then twenty minutes later is complaining of how full she is and she shouldn’t have eaten so much.”

    It’s true, it’s true!! And why? Because the people we become depend crucially on stories/events we are nurtured on.

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