Final drafts of eighth grade personal narratives are due Friday. We've been working for weeks to mine our lives and share our stories. More than once, someone has left the room in tears. Not because I harmed them, but because narrative writing can open wounds we don't normally deal with during the school day. As I write with my students, I'm writing about my dad's death. Some of the tears shed in the past few weeks belong to me. Narrative is powerful stuff.
And yet, continually, I find myself defending how much class time I devote to narrative.
Argument writing is more important. Kids have to know how to write analysis essays. Stories are for little children. They shouldn't be writing in first person.
I know that some of this is blowback from the Common Core standards and its division of writing purposes, but I won't blame it all on the Core. People have been bashing narrative long before the Core came along.
When did we decide that sharing stories was juvenile or less complex than arguing or explaining? A toddler can argue. A child can explain how to do something. Yet somehow these purposes are held above narrative on the hierarchy of writing tasks?
Stories bring us together as humans. Fictional stories can give us an escape while also providing us with characters and situations we can relate to our everyday existence. But we consider fiction writing childish, and rarely allow students in our English classrooms to engage in writing fiction beyond elementary school.
Am I missing something here? Do people not understand how incredibly difficult writing a decent piece of fiction can be? Hell, even writing terrible fiction is tough. I know, because I do it with my students, and you sure don't see me posting any of it on this blog for human consumption. And unless I'm way off the mark here, "create" is still at the top of Bloom's Taxonomy. Yes, even higher than "evaluate" and "analyze." Doesn't that make creating an original story one of the most challenging educational activities a person could undertake? More often than not, I attempt to talk my students out of writing fiction for their Trimester Finals because I know how incredibly hard it is to create a piece of decent short fiction.
Personal narrative is where my tolerance for bashing storytelling reaches its breaking point, though. Our societies run on real life narratives, and it is false for teachers and policymakers to say otherwise. Look at political speeches. How many times has a politician used a narrative from his or her own life to support their argument? Always. Look at most nonfiction books: biographies, histories, sports; you name it. How many of them use real narratives to turn facts into a story? All of them. Other genres are almost always strengthened when they use narrative as a tool to help persuade or explain.
Humans want narrative. We crave it. Our stories are powerful because they bring us together and make us reflect on what tears us apart. We heal by writing personal narrative because the process forces us to be at our must human, our most vulnerable. You cannot write about yourself without spending time examining who you really are. If anything, our world would benefit from more people sitting down with the pen and taking a good hard look at what's inside them.
It's time for the educational world to stop treating narrative as if it's the stuff of children. Numbers and data and analysis will always be important, but narrative belongs at the same level. None of the facts matter if there's no story to accompany them.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.