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Curriculum Studies

Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson

The Story So Far

Storytelling and Educational Study

Now because the media often employs stories to close off political and cultural analysis does not itself disprove the value of storying and narrative in educational study. I would however urge that it is cause for pause in two ways. Firstly, if stories are so easily used in this manner in the media it is plainly possible that they might act in this way as educational study. Secondly, as is made clear in some of the foregoing quotes, the way we ‘story’ our lives (and therefore the way we present ourselves for educational study, among other things) are deeply connected to storylines derived from elsewhere. In American life especially, but increasingly elsewhere, forms of narrative and storying, the classic ‘storylines’, are often derived from television and newspapers. In this sense Ronald Reagan is not alone; he made such a representative President because of his capacity to catch and dispatch the central storylines of American life. ‘It's morning in America’ sounded right and true. It was a powerful storyline and it was not seriously contested by political or cultural analysis. But with the power of hindsight wasn't it a gigantic lie which inaugurated a new economic depression?

Stories then need to be closely interrogated and analysed in their social context. Stories in short are most often carriers of dominant messages, themselves agencies of domination. Of course oppositional stories can be captured but they are very much a minority form and are often themselves overlaid or reactive to dominant storylines. As Gordon Wells (1986) has warned us a previous expression of reality is largely "a distillation of the stories that we have shared: not only the narratives that we have heard and told, read, or seen enacted in drama or news on television, but also the anecdotes, explanations, and conjectures that are drawn upon in everyday conversation (p. 196)" or as Passerini (1987) has noted "when someone is asked for his life-story, his memory draws on pre-existing story-lines and ways of telling stories, even if these are in part modified by the circumstances (p. 28)." Put in another way this means that we often narrate our lives according to a ‘prior script’, a script written elsewhere, by others, for other purposes.

Seen in this way the use of stories in educational study needs to become part of a broader project of re-appropriation. It is not sufficient to say we wanted ‘to listen to people’, ‘to capture their voices’ ‘to let them tell their stories’. A far more active collaboration is required. Luisa Passerini's work on the Turin's working class and on women's personal narratives is exemplary in this regard. (Passerini 1987; 1989) As Weiler (1991) has summarized:

Passerini's emphasis on recurrent narrative forms begins to uncover the way people reconcile contradictions, the ways they create meaning from their lives, and create a coherent sense of themselves through available forms of discourse. At the same time, she is concerned with the ‘bad fit’ or ‘gap’ between ‘pre-existing story lines’ and individual constructions of the self through memory. As individuals construct their past, they leave unresolved contradictions at precisely those points at which authoritative discourse conflicts with collective cultural meanings (pp. 6-7)

At the centre of any move to aid people, teachers in particular, to reappropriate their individual lived experiences as stories is the need for active collaboration. In the case of teachers, this will sometimes be in association with educators located in the academy, especially in faculties of education.

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  • Date of publication: 15/09/2005
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 272
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Co-author: NAN
  • Subject:
    Curriculum Studies, Narrative Theory
  • Available in:
    English
  • Appears in:
    Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson
  • Number of editions: 1
  • Paperback
  • Price of book: £27.99
  • ISBN: 978-0-415-35220-8
  • Purchase this book:
    Routledge
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