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Still another post to Storytell

Subject: A tradition of Story in the USA (was Re: Violence and overstimulation)

Date: Mon, Mon, 6 Apr 1998 13:05:55 -0400


Diane, Folks,

<snip> ANYWAYS ... your post made me have a glimmer of hope, that if I start the day with an intriguing story, non-violent, but about love, or hope, or peace, or patience, or self-control, or kindness or wisdom, then MAYBE MAYBE I can plant a seed of some kind that may not bear fruit in the time that I have him as my student, but may sometime in his life. What do you think? <snap>

I think that if you start the day with ANY story, you will plant seeds in all your students. What they do with the fruits will be different for each child. Your attitude of not expecting to see the results is a good one, but I'd be surprised if you don't see any. How you tell the story may make the most difference.

I'd like to share a perspective I have about the Value of Story and a piece of history in the tradition of Storytelling in the USA.

I am a traditional storyteller. My mother was a Village teller. I grew up listening to and telling stories. In our tradition, stories were used for many things, but the thing that was most important to me was the sharing. It didn't matter whether the story was a funny tale my mother learned from the tellers at the libraries, an old family tale from an uncle or aunt, a tale from the old days on the farm from my father, or a wisdom tale from an older sibling to help me deal with some current problem.

When they told their stories, they told to me, they told to everyone in the group. They shared with us and we heard the sharing and loved the teller for caring enough to pay us a little attention.

Something to remember about me is that I'm from a large extended family. Their were kids in my family. Each of my parents came from larger families and their siblings had large families. I have about a hundred cousins on each side and had over0 aunts and uncles. But it didn't stop there. My grand parents were from large families and second cousins were part of this equation. There are cousins of cousins several times removed, but they are all family and parts of this family met many times a year.

So imagine how much time any child in this huge family might get from any single adult (or any other child for that matter). Storytelling allowed us to meet the personal needs of the individuals and deal with large numbers at the same time. It gave us a shared language, a means of sharing ideas, hopes, and dreams, a sense of community, and whatever lessons we had the understanding to accept.

When I needed help to understand the vast world beyond my limited experience, those thousands of hours, hearing stories from hundreds of tellers, gave me the insights, perspectives, and inklings of wisdom to make more educated guesses.

I've learned that this has not been the experience of many US children. I've learned that it is important to add to the pool of Story experience even for the folks with some history of Story. You can't share too many stories. And too often, we don't share enough.

So many of us grow up without much story sharing at all. So many of us, that some folks think there is little or no tradition of storytelling in this country. That is not true, but it is understandable.

Here's a little piece of mine:

There were times in my life when there was no money. As kids, finding a penny was a big deal to us. You could go into a store, if you had at least a penny. And there were lots of things a penny could buy. As hard as it is to admit it, in first grade, I sometimes took an unguarded penny from the desk of a mate. They always seemed to have so many and I rarely had any.

One day, a penny was missing from a desk in my room. I hadn't taken that one, but the weight of my past crimes made me feel awkward. When my teacher, Sister Claire asked for the culprit to admit and return the coin, the room was silent. So she told a story.

Once when she was a little girl in school, there was a little boy who saw a penny that didn't belong to him. He took the penny when no one was looking and held it tight in his hand.

The teacher went around the room and asked each child if they had taken it. The boy held the coin tightly in his hand and said no. Three times the teacher asked the children if they had taken the penny. Three times the boy held the penny tight in his hand and said no.

Later on, when the boy opened his hand, he found that the penny had been pressed through the skin into the palm of his hand. The penny stayed there the rest of his life and always reminded him of the theft and his lies.

Next, my teacher told us to put our heads on our desks and close our eyes. She shut off the lights and told us she was going to leave the room for a little while. She told us that the person who took the penny should walk quietly up and put it on her desk. She told the rest to keep their heads down and their eyes closed.

Nobody confessed, the coin was not returned, but I never ever took another penny from the and I will always remember the story. The image of a penny, just under the skin of my palm, will stay with me the rest of my life.

One day, I had to deal with my own children going through those ages and stages, I told them the story of when I took pennies and the story that helped me stop doing it. It helped them.

Now the tale wasn't about self control. It was a cautionary tale. Designed to scare us into conforming. But it taught me self control even though it was meant to inspire fear in the thief. It also gave me the start of the story I shared with my children. A personal experience story that helped them understand that I knew what they were going through. More than that, they learned that the problem they were having was universal and that people got through it. So they learned self control too.

That's my point. We take what we need from stories. Not necessarily the message the teller meant to give, but the message we need to hear. Just tell the stories and your listeners will find the things they need to find. Sometimes I wonder what you folks take from my stories. I'll bet there are more things than I can imagine.

<snip> If anyone has any short -- or so minute gems, I would really appreciate it. <snap>

There have been lots of wonderful suggestions. Fables work so well for this. Another thought I had was to assign extra credit for students that turn in short stories each week and to use some of their tales for your start of the day tale. You'd get some more gems and they would get some great validation for their work.

And most importantly, from my point of view, is that you'll be adding to the tradition of sharing storytelling in our culture. A tradition that is alive and growing.

Pax & Amicitia,

Papa Joe

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