Everybody has a story

Until recently I was the Head of Social Studies at Crofton House School in Vancouver, Canada. This fall I take up the position of Assistant Principal at Bodwell High School, also in Vancouver. In the first of two blog posts, I reflect on what I and my 11th grade students gained from participating in the Out of Eden learning community this past semester:

“Everybody has a story.” That’s usually my first line of history class, followed by an anecdote from my life. Some students find it to be a more interesting start to the class than issuing textbooks. In this era of the common core and standardized testing, it is easy to get bogged down with the minutiae of content and historical trivia. But the essence of teaching history comes down to our connection to humanity and how we are all interconnected—and it is the stories of the past that shape our history and our present.

My students and I got involved in the Out of Eden project because even though it meant “straying” away from our specified curriculum, the project focuses on things that will be important for students – citizens – to know ten years from now, when they have long since left school. Students are more likely to remember stories, human and personable, than they are the “Google-able” content of their curriculum. And following Paul’s walk involves listening to stories that are both old and new.

One of our activities involved interviewing someone over the age of 50. Most of my students interviewed a relative or a neighbour. As they spoke with their interviewees, they discovered a lot about changes in our local communities. This is not unusual, of course, as we live in a modern, urban area in a multicultural Canadian city that has experienced growth and change continuously through its short history. But what was more interesting and enlightening for my students was to read the interviews posted by their peers around the world. My students remarked that other students were much more bold as to ask a stranger to be their interviewee. (What does this say about our culture?) And my students read with rapt attention how so many people, no matter where they were located on the globe, lived in a multicultural place where migration and immigration had changed the faces of those cities and enriched their flavour. The local is exotic, and the exotic is local.

Stories connect us. Paul’s story, still in its early stages, will connect my students to him and to our global peers for the next seven years perhaps, at least for those who decide to continue to follow the journey. I would say that my students have a new perspective on an old human story of movement, progress, knowledge, and discovery from having participated in this project. The learning they have gained is above and beyond the history curriculum. From the personal to the universal, these individual stories comprise the collage of our history and our future.

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