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All We Are: The Truth about Stories

Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman

"The truth about stories is, that's all we are." The words of Canadian writer Thomas King have been rattling around in my brain since I first heard them nearly two years ago. Most of us have grown up with some tradition of storytelling in our families, whether it was a nightly ritual when we went to bed or in conversations around the kitchen table after a Sunday meal.

Perhaps you have a relative that loves to spin a yarn or two, or maybe it is you, yourself, who recounts the family's memories and stories. It is one thing to say that we appreciate a good story. It is quite another to say that we, as human beings, are defined by our stories.

But when you think about it, you'll agree that stories are a powerful force in our lives: Architectural and visual-arts critic John Bentley Mays says we have stories to teach us, stories to heal us, stories to warn us, and stories to lead us.

I've come to see stories as being formative in that they have the power to fashion or shape us in some way. Some stories transform us, while others reform us. Some are designed to inform, and others encourage a level of conformity.

The main thread running through our school's arts@newman program this year is story -- specifically, stories of home. (See my blog entry about the program.) In the weeks and months to come, we will explore the stories we tell of coming, leaving, and being at home. We will use the arts to explore how our stories can help us to learn about ourselves, about others, and about our lives as members of a community.

Through drama, dance, visual arts, music, and media arts, we will unpack what it means to be a people of stories, and how all of us might contribute to the treasure we have in the stories we tell -- or, as Thomas King might say, the stories we are!

Do you have a favorite story from when you were growing up?

Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman

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Monica Rettig's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello Mr. Hurley!

I have always been fascinated with how certain stories are told and re-told in family circles. My family spent a year in Germany that was both challenging and formative, and provided a wealth of stories by turn funny, bizarre, and telling of our experiences of culture shock.

We never seem to tire of hearing these stories, which have developed into a script of sorts over the years. In a way, they detail a time when we stood together as a unit and faced the obstacles and adventures in our path.

I'm not sure if my name rings any bells, but you were my grade 6 & 7 teacher at Cardinal Newman! I studied Comparative Literature (I'm still the same bookworm) and completed an MA last year. I am currently in the Library Studies program at U of T. I would love to hear from you!

(feel free not to post this on your blog --I couldn't find an e-mail address to contact you directly).

Laura's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading about your thoughts on stories. It made me think that I should focus more on stories with my middle level Learning Support students. My students already find school difficult, don't feel understood or appreciated. I wonder if focusing on the stories that they have to tell, might allow them to feel more open and understood. A few years back my students wrote about a significant time in their lives. Some were about first loves, a trip to the mall or graduating from preschool. I also had students writing of abuse in foster care, and drunken, violent fathers. I know that I gained a much higher level of understanding and compassion for my students, as did the others who were allowed to read the writings.
Your idea planted a seed in my mind of attempting to make the story theme a part of the school year for next year. Thank you!

smckay's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This idea fits in well in my writing class for 7th and 8th graders; I love the quote about stories and identity. In class,we explore memoirs, and I ask my students to link food to one story from their family in their memoirs. I ask them to include the family recipe and how the food is prepared, if possible. I teach students of many different ethnic backgrounds, yet they find they are more alike than ever when it comes to this writing assignment. Sometimes I get a picture as well. The point of this writng is that families gather at the table for many reasons and in many places and that we remember our favorite food as an integral part of our lives; there is always a memorable story that can be recalled that reveals an insight about the person or another family member.
The stories of home theme is a valid exploration of a student's identity and self-knowledge that provide an opportunity to value our lives and the lives of our students. I feel your school theme is so important.


Lauren Fagerhaug's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think story telling is probably one of the most common human experiences we can share, perhaps aside from music. Although music overcomes language barriers, stories usually bring to life the human experience and almost any time we hear a story or tell a story, it sparks a fire in someone else to tell theirs as well. My father was a very nostalgic man and I would sit and fervently listen for hours, consuming his past through his words, he brought his childhood to life with his stories and it is something I still treasure.

I have noticed with students that they love to listen to stories about me, or my family and it is a great way to connect with them and build positive strong relationships by sharing the human bond. It also sparks their desire to share themselves with me and ties in beautifully to the way that songs can tell stories, which is what I teach.

The thing I love about teaching music, is that it is accessable to every child, no matter his/her skill level and story telling is very much the same. From Kindergarten to eighth grade, kids love to share their stories and better still, to have an adult listen and respond to those stories. That is a great way to bond with students and a great prompt for just about any kind of lesson. Thanks for the great insight into an ancient art.


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