Story as the Landscape of Knowing
Kathy Short, 2014 Convention Program Chair
Story is the landscape within which we map the significance of experience and build towers of knowledge. Stories saturate our lives, woven so tightly into the fabric of the everyday that it’s easy to overlook their value as a way of knowing the world. We work at understanding the chaotic “stuff” of daily life by constructing stories to interpret and bring order and coherence to what is occurring around us. Each story carries a multiplicity of meanings that capture the richness and nuances of life and accommodate the ambiguity and complexity of experience. The webs of interconnected stories constructed in our minds become an interpretive lens to filter new experiences. They are the glue that creates community and binds us together around common purposes and values.
These powerful roles of story are often discounted as standing in opposition to scientific rigor; creating the belief that story inhibits knowing. Instead, story facilitates knowing by creating bridges between the English language arts and other disciplines, fact and fiction, written/oral literacy and media literacies, literary and social discourse, and public and private interaction. These bridges challenge the dichotomies that cause confusion and pendulum swings. Currently, educators face policies that artificially separate informational and literary texts; a separation that ignores the use of narrative structures to engage readers with both types of texts. Scientists and historians constantly use story to construct theories that provide coherent explanations of known facts. Both change their stories as new information and perspectives become available. A story is thus a theory of something, what we tell and how we tell it reveals what we believe at a particular moment in time.
Stories of the past are significant in framing our thinking about the world and providing a sense of our humanity. Without these stories of our past, we are adrift, unable to compare and contrast our current experiences with those of the past. We are locked in the current moment, deprived of memory, unable to see ourselves as part of the larger continuum of life that stretches far behind and ahead. Stories of the past allow us to locate ourselves and to envision the possibilities for taking action to create social change.
The ways in which we create and tell stories are culturally-based. Our human need to story our experiences may be universal but there is no one way to tell stories. Our stories are always intertextualized and interwoven with the stories that exist within families, communities and cultural traditions. Inviting stories across multiple cultures and languages into classrooms is essential to a curriculum that values difference as resource. For the current generation of students, this diversity recognizes that stories are told and accessed through a wide range of literacies and technologies as well as through oral and written language.
Story is the landscape within which we live as teachers and researchers--our knowledge is ordered by story and understood by story. Our rich stockpiles of storied knowledge about literacy, curriculum, instruction, and students construct teaching as narrative in action. Stories are the touchstones and metaphors by which we conduct our professional lives, telling us who we are and who we can, or cannot, become. They constrain and position our identities and roles as well as provide a way of knowing and of creating community among ourselves and with our students.
Given the convention location in Washington DC, we must also recognize that story is always political. Story can be used to distort, marginalize and misrepresent particular groups and to determine who gets to tell their stories and whose reality is accepted as the norm. Because all stories are ideological, they produce a way to see the world that privileges particular interests over others. Those in positions of power often use story to legitimate and dominate, to spin their version of “truth,” but story can also be used as counter-narratives to resist and challenge. NCTE is actively engaged in re-authoring stories about teachers and professional organizations, challenging deficit views by telling stories of teacher agency and collaborative inquiry through the National Center for Literacy Education.
At the 2014 NCTE Convention, proposals that explore the many dimensions of story as the landscape of knowing are invited--story as literary and informational text, story as cross-disciplinary collaborations, story as multiple literacies and genres, story as memory and identity, story as teacher knowledge and research, story as community and culture, story as marginalization, and story as resistance. Our gathering in Washington DC is an opportunity to take back the right to tell our stories, to create our own landscapes, and to “talk story” with each other.
All proposals must include the following information
• a complete mailing address, e-mail address, phone number, and affiliation for each participant
• a description of no more than 500 words for the session as a whole
• a brief 50-word synopsis of the session to be included in the print program upon acceptance