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Storytelling might be bad for academia but it’s good for people

I read an interesting article yesterday titled, “Oral History and How It Makes Learning Less Effective, Study Shows.”

The article made a couple of different points:

  1. Oral history is becoming more popular in some countries, including the US.
  2. A study found that those who listened to the stories being told didn’t meet the educational standards hoped for.
  3. This was because those who listened to the first-hand accounts adopted the viewpoint of the storyteller. As a result, objectivity and critical thinking were reduced.

So is oral storytelling a bad idea? Should it be abandoned entirely in favor of written or video accounts?

The article didn’t go so far as to recommend that, but it certainly portrayed oral storytelling in a bad light. After reading the entire article, I agree with their findings. However, based on those findings, my conclusion is that oral storytelling is something you should do. Frequently.

Wait, What??

So how can I agree with the premise of an article that says oral storytelling is bad, then make the above statement? It’s all about perspective. This quote from the article explains why oral storytelling in an academic environment is less than ideal.

The study found that the students who listened to live witnesses did not meet the standard the teaching unit was aiming for. These students showed less learning on the epistemological principles on the lessons of history.

The students didn’t learn whatever it was they were supposed to learn, or at least they didn’t learn it in a way that was acceptable to the teachers. This may be important to a formal educator, but within the context of telling family stories, I think the study shows that oral storytelling is priceless. Again, from the article:

Since the eyewitnesses experienced the events first hand, it would be difficult for the students to detach themselves and have their own objective view of the historical event. University of Konstanz’s Christiane Bertram, who is the author of the study, said, “Students got so impressed with the oral accounts of the eyewitness that they overestimate the success of their own learning experience.”

While we don’t often think about it, each of us has a lot of influence over our family members. As a result, it’s common to see family members share core beliefs and values. Certainly, as a parent, I want to influence my children to think, act, and believe as I do. This study indicates that oral storytelling is more likely to produce that outcome. So while oral storytelling may not be ideal within the narrow constraints of a formal education system’s epistemological principles, it seems ideal for everyday living and family life.

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Don’t lose it; Record it

That being said, there is one problem with oral storytelling as a standalone platform. Oral histories tend to change over time and eventually the actual events will be lost. So yes, they need to be recorded. Recording an oral history is easier than ever with the audio and video capabilities of our phones. Always in our pocket or purse, we can be at the ready to hit “record” when the opportunity arises. Both Android and Apple have several free apps for audio recording, and you can do video with your built-in camera.

Oral histories need not be lost when we can so easily record them. And their influence in creating a family culture is powerful.

If you are looking to pass on life lessons, core beliefs, or principles, oral storytelling might be the best way to do that. I’m curious to know your thoughts; feel free to share them in the comments section.


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