"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Everyone Loves a Good Story

In elementary school, I was very shy.  I rarely spoke up in class unless someone else spoke to me first, and even my interactions with my classmates were quite limited.  I am not sure why that is...perhaps it is a phase that a lot of children go through at one time or another.  However, despite my shyness, I loved to write.  Writing stories was my favorite part of class time.  Through writing I felt more confident in expressing my creativity and ideas and communicating bits and pieces of my personality to others.  Essentially, it gave me a voice and a way of making sense of the world.  Even as an adult, I often feel that I learn best through writing.  I may read something or listen to a lecture and feel that I have understood the subject matter, but I'm not really confident that I've learned something until I have written about it.  For this reason, I would agree with Rossiter and Boudin that writing can be a powerful tool for making sense of life events and for forming one's identity.  

As Rossiter mentions, "To be a person is to have a story.  More than that, it is to be a story."  People have been making sense of the world through stories and narratives for centuries.  The idea of narratives and passing down knowledge, genealogy, and national identity through stories transcends cultural barriers, ideologies, and languages.  Everyone loves a good story!  Perhaps that is why stories and narratives have survived for so long as a means of conveying knowledge and identity.  Conversely, if someone changes the story or writes against the dominant discourse, they can bring about a transformation of ideas and identities, just like the women in Boudin's Adult Basic Education class.

However, I also agree with Michelsen that the dominant discourse has taken over the traditional narrative to such an extent that it is not always effective in producing authentic self-reflection and identity formation.  Because the models of personal narratives that are taught often anticipate the process of critical reflection  and the types of epiphanies that students are supposed to reach through this process, I feel that the narratives are sometimes contrived to meet the teacher's expectations.  For example, one of the student workers from my office, an immigrant from India, was required to write a personal narrative for a writing class.  She asked me to look over it and give her feedback before she turned it in to her professor.  In her narrative, she told a touching story about how she overcame racism in her first place of employment.  When I asked her about it later, she said that she "just made it up."  It wasn't that she hadn't actually encountered racism in the workplace, but it wasn't nearly to the extent that she portrayed it in her paper.  She said that she had exaggerated the situation to make her paper more interesting for the professor, and then she "made up" some reflections about the experience because that is what she was told to include in her paper.

I think that one of the reasons that writing was so effective for the students in the novel Push was because they had the freedom to write whatever they wanted without being given expectations about the content of their work.  In this way, they really had the liberty to find their own voices and identities, by taking ownership of their own stories.

The readings this week were really interesting, and I am looking forward to talking about these complex issues in class.


  1. Rachel, if you haven't taken Dr. Muth's 601 theory class yet, you're going to love it! It is a lot of reflective writing. I found it really difficult to get to what I wanted to say, in the way that I wanted to say it, but the eductional biography / world within project really helped me grow! :)

  2. Thanks for the plug, Caitlin! And Rachel, your integrating of the four readings is super helpful. I got really defensive when I first read Michelson because I thought she was anti-story or anti-growth! But in my second (third? fourth?) reading, I am beginning to see better that her "corrective" is a way of permitting the learner's narrative to unfold in its own way. I never thought about how unspoken expectations regarding narratives are class and culture bound before! Her message is one of acceptance and awareness on our part as educators...and your reflection helped me read it in this way. We'll see if she agrees with us tomorrow!


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.