Why must we put storytelling IN teaching when storytelling IS teaching?

Sampark Foundation

One well remembers The Arabian Nights. Scheherazade, in order to keep herself alive, leaves a story every morning at a cliffhanger as she tells it to the vengeful king. Starting with one story, Scheherazade’s wise scheme continues for a thousand and one nights, after which the king ends up falling in love with his storyteller, sparing her life. The Arabian Nights is therefore stories told in an attempt at rescue. The future of Scheherazade literally depends on her ability to tell her tales.

 

When I was a child, my cousin in Patna would tell me all kinds of stories. There was one where an airplane named Delhi Model came after her and my aunt who were out on the roof putting clothes to dry. “At first it went right over our heads and the noise was threatening.” I listened intently. “Then it returned, and came so close to us that we had to lie down on the floor to avoid being hit by its tyres.” She drew an outline of the plane ascending over the bridge of her nose. I belonged to a small town, and Patna was the city. I had never actually seen an airplane land with my own eyes. But they were frequent in Patna, I knew, so I believed every word my cousin said. Thereafter, every time the two of us went to the roof, we communicated quietly and made strategies to evade our own, personal airborne attacks.

 

Now 25, I have considerable experience in air travel. I understand that the chances of an airplane circling kids for their little lives are fairly negligible. Having watched all the episodes of Air Crash Investigation, I also know that a pilot won’t probably go out of their way to waste the precious fuel only to haunt a double-storey house in Patna’s Kankarbagh Colony. Being a flier, I now know that there is no airline called Delhi Model. Anywhere.

 

Like anyone else, I learned my first stories at school, where teachers were my storytellers. They taught me Humpty Dumpty in nursery and they taught me that story in class 6th where an accomplished girl hiding behind a bush is killed by the wolf because the clanking of her medals gave her away. Certainly not your usual success story. But stories need not follow a pattern. They are not answerable to the rationality of things. Their very refusal to conform helps us aspire towards something incredible. The story which my cousin told me in Patna was devoid of “logic”, but boy was it interesting! We still joke about it sometimes.

 

There are things that remain with us when we grow up. Things that alter the way we perceive and make sense of the world around us. Of course I won’t go to a general store and ask for an egg named Humpty Dumpty. Of course I won’t go to a cat and ask the number of rats she ate for the day. That is secondary. What matters is that I know that there is something called an egg. I know that there is a creature called a cat that eats rats. We don’t forget these things because we have attached a sense of wonder to them. We did not look at a cat at the age of 4 as a “feline creature”. We looked at it like a .GIF file. Like “Funny cat videos” on YouTube.

 

Teaching is nothing if not a narrative of events or ideas. A Math teacher does not just walk in a class and says 5 is greater than 3. Rather, they create an argument, a narrative – a story indeed – to put the point across. How well they tell their stories is up to them. Like Scheherazade who persuades King Shahryar to let her live through her tales, the teacher persuades their students to believe in the stories that they tell.

 

And once the stories stick, what we are told is learnt for life. 

 

-Spark Mihir, Noida

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