Thomas Newkirk‘s idea that story is everywhere, in everything, is not all that new, but his framing of the issue in the Common Core-infused world of the US education system is worth noting. Minds Made for Stories: How We Really Read and Write Informational Texts is Newkirk’s, well, story of how he came to see stories in the anchors of all texts.
“The hero of this story is narrative itself –how it comes to our aid as we sort out the welter of information that is available, as it undergirds our belief that our world is comprehensible, and meaningful, and one in which our actions have consequences. Narrative is there to help us ‘compose’ ourselves when we meet difficulty or loss. It is there to ground abstract ideas, to help see the pattern in a set of numerical data, to illuminate the human consequences of political action. It is home base.” — Thomas Newkirk, Minds Made for Stories, p. 5
Newkirk refers to many of those before him, including Peter Elbow, James Moffett and others, whose work and insights about writing has informed the teaching and thinking of writing in the past 50 years. Here, Newkirk argues that “narrative” is not a genre, and that the Common Core classification breakdown of writing into the three rungs of Narrative, Information/Expository, Argument/Persuasion is faulty categorization system, in that it fails to acknowledge that all texts have a narrative beneath them.
He advocates the direct teaching of noticing these stories, in all sorts of texts in the world of young people, and by noticing the frames of narratives, young people will be more apt to compose their own, breathing life into arguments and into informational texts, which often take on the lifeless role of teacher-as-audience assignments.
In one example, he breaks down the box score of a baseball game, to show how one can ferret out the true story of the game from just the mere numbers. In another section, he praises the role of Miss Frizzle and the Magic School Bus series for the way is uses story to contextualize science themes. He does the same with many picture book authors, too, such as Eric Carle. We lose that sense of underlying story in the content fields as students get older. Why is that?
This book is part of our framework for a summer camp we are now designing in a partnership between my Western Massachusetts Writing Project, the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, and an urban middle school in Springfield. Our program is even called Minds Made for Stories. All that we are planning to do during our free summer camp (we are being supported through a grant from Mass Humanities) will be done through the lens of story, through historical documents, a social justice mindset and a larger community project.
I appreciated Newkirk’s insights. The reminder of how powerful a role stories can play in our lives, in school and certainly beyond school, is always welcome in this day and age of standards, testing and information overload. We need stories to make sense of the world, maybe now more than ever.
Peace (tells the story),