Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Importance of Narrative

My sister-in-law, D, moved to New York last year to pursue her education. The kid misses her a lot as do I. D and I have a lot in common. She's the baby of her family. I'm the baby of my family. We both identified as fairly awkward teens. We're both artists. And we both love Art Deco, sundresses, and Neil Gaiman. So when her boyfriend came home for his spring break, she sent presents--awesome earrings and a purse for me, gourmet dried fruits for her brother, and a book for the kid.

I feel like the book was also for me. It's Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman. It's this beautiful "prayer" for a little girl. Wishes for how she might grow up, and how the world might treat her. It's the perfect blend of fairy tale magic and real world scenarios. I love it, so does the kid. Great present giving from an awesome Tia...

I read a lot. In fact, my whole family reads a lot. Reading as an activity has helped define and shape me as an individual and has influenced my views of the world. If I love you, I have probably given you a book because books and the stories they contain are how I cope and concentrate. They are how I define myself. I can tell you the books I was reading in moments of change in my life. I'm not sure if they are books that made me change, or if they are simply the markers I use to record those changes. Either way, books are often the yardstick I use to measure my emotional and philosophical growth and development.

Stories help us grow. They activate our empathy and make us more open to other people's experiences and lifestyles. They help us articulate our own experiences and lifestyles. They let us know we are not alone. Which brings me to my point: there is a trend in education to remove fiction and narratives from our high school curriculum. Curriculum planners want the focus to be on non-fiction, informative texts. 

The idea of more science- or fact- based readings in school does not worry me, but our society's disregard for the power of stories does. I see this all over. My students love to hear stories, but they don't understand how the stories they read/hear/see affect their view of the world. And we aren't teaching this skill. They are reading--Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars. But they can't explain the difference between Katniss, Bella, and Katherine. They don't know how these female characters are shaping their personal views of femininity and women's roles in the world. They don't understand the connection between entertainment and personal beliefs. But they want to. This is what hurts the most, at least for me. This disregard does not come from our children. They are seeking out stories to influence them, but they haven’t been taught to understand and question this influence.

I want the written word to touch people’s lives, but I want more than anything for people to understand the difference between Gaiman’s Blueberry Girl and Bella. I want people—adults and children alike—to be able to critically look at the way language shapes perceptions. I want society to see the power of language, a power for change and beauty and growth or one of stagnation.

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