Why I'm Bringing Story-Based Learning Into My Community

In cities and neighborhoods nationwide, story-based learning prevails as a key exchange of knowledge and motivation. It also offers much promise to youth and adults alike as we continue to reform the way we learn and address prominent challenges within our communities.

When I was a kid, I often felt that the best part of my education came from the porch of my grandparents' house in Staten Island, New York. I learned the science of Southern cooking, the history of the African Diaspora, the language arts of New Yorker accents, and the math of how many generations it took for someone in my family to graduate college.

But, this type of experience is not unique to me. In cities and neighborhoods nationwide, story-based learning prevails as a key exchange of knowledge and motivation. It also offers much promise to youth and adults alike as we continue to reform the way we learn and address prominent challenges within our communities.

My team, United Story (U/S), serves as a vehicle to help facilitate this storytelling as a learning and community-building tool. Through its chapters, workshops, and events, United Story provides both a public forum and an incubation model for members of communities to express, activate, and support new knowledge, ideas, and solutions.

Monthly United Story nights give everyday citizens a stage and platform to creatively share their personal narratives and educate audiences on selected social themes. Visual arts and creativity activities accompany shared stories to allow audience members to respond and contribute more stories and insights about the topic. This platform brings members of communities together to hear, interact, and engage with each others’ experiences through performance, interactive design, and the arts. And, it allows us to foster connections amongst audiences to evoke empathetic learning.

As a nation, we are undoubtedly at a crucial moment in our conversation about education. Amidst the constant discourse and reform surrounding standardization, data-collection, 21st-century learning techniques, and policies that account for globalization trends, education has become much more about the politics regarding what happens within schools without enough consideration of how people more broadly experience the process of learning. United Story challenges this by transforming the places, people, and ideas participating in education. For us, this means:

Shifting the sole location of education to outside of the physical school building and into the streets, neighborhoods, community centers, campfires, and porches of a community.

Recognizing that the new guardians and teachers of knowledge are the people we engage with in our daily lives and we have to help unlock the lessons that are embedded in each individual's experiences and cultural learnings.

Making the transmission of knowledge functional to communities because learning happens outside the confines of the classroom and outside of professional titles, education becomes a process that a community fosters. This means that engaging in education becomes less about the pursuit of answers and more about the creation of actions.

This redefinition of education prompts the questioning, examining, and adopting of the role of story in its reform. Storytelling, through design, allows individuals to organize their lives, make sense of past experiences, and contour their futures. It promotes not only personal growth and self-evaluation, but also generates a collective social awareness born of empathy and understanding.

In regards to education, there is great importance in localizing the power of education within the individual. The recognition of story as a resource inherent in each community permits it to drive community change. Essentially, through organizing with efforts like United Story, each community has a chance to shape and advocate for its own united story. My grandparent's porch, after all, is the place where I first heard my family's story, earned my marks as an "A student", and became an inspired citizen.

Photos by Lindy Drew

via Jason S Campbell / Twitter

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