Thursday, March 31, 2016

From the Archives: 5 Ways to Empower your Reluctant Reader

5 Ways to Empower your Reluctant Reader

 The entries on this blog have focused on the importance of reading in education. Exposure to literature and the ideas contained therein is essential to the formation of a well-rounded individual. All of that is wonderful, but what if you have students who either dislike reading or have difficulty with it. ADHD, dyslexia, some forms of autism, and many other learning challenges can make reading a struggle. Others are simply not interested. What do you do in such cases? There are several practical ways to encourage and develop a love of reading.  

~Lead by Example~

Research backs up what any parent knows: children learn by example. Read in front of your children. Talk with others about the books you are reading. Parents who read for their own pleasure and communicate that experience by talking about the books they're reading are more likely to pique their children's interest.

~Build a Family Library~

Make books easily accessible. Begin building a family library. This will reinforce the value you place on reading. Make regular trips to the library so that there are new books in your home for your children to discover. Research shows that simply having books in the home predicts academic success.
~Prioritize Reading~

Make time for reading. Turning off the TV is one of the most important steps one can take in opening up space for reading. Limit time on the computer and playing video games. This may lead to boredom, not such a bad thing, and lead children to discovery reading for their own pleasure.

~Read Together~

Read aloud as a family. This is essential. While many children think of reading as "boring" everyone 
loves a good story. Read aloud some of your childhood favorites. Once children are introduced to the joys of hearing good stories, it is often not long until they are wanting to discover good books for themselves. Reading aloud is also essential for developing good writing skills, even more so than reading silently to oneself!

~Follow Their Lead~

Follow your children's interests. If your son dislikes reading but loves horses, read Marguerite Henry's lovely stories with him. Encourage your child's overactive imagination by introducing her to the wonderfully fantastical worlds of C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, Francis Hodgson Burnett, and Madeleine L'Engle. Show your children that books are one of the best ways to explore their interests.

Investigate the link between musical education and reading ability.

These are just a few practical suggestions and many people have found success in implementing some or all of these changes. If your child is still struggling, remember that all children develop at different speeds. We know children who took to reading immediately and for others it was slow process that took years. It may also be worth having your child tested for a learning disability. There are many tools and resources now available to help children with these challenges. Families have found help in therapeutic methods, teaching tools, even dietary changes! For a child who struggles with things that come easily to his friends or siblings, diagnosis can be a relief if it is presented in a supportive and encouraging manner.

I would love to hear from parents of reluctant readers! What have you done to encourage reading? How have you been successful? What challenges did you face?

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

BFB Essentials: Is BFB Classical?

This is Part IV in our BFB Essentials Series. 
Click on the links to read Part IPart II and Part III

By Rea C. Berg
In Part IV of our series BFB Fundamentals, we are exploring the question of whether or not Beautiful Feet Books is classical in nature. As we noted in the previous post, until the definition of classical is clarified, the question can become one of semantics and may lead to simplistic conclusions.  Because classical is currently the homeschool paradigm de jour, examining some of its well-accepted tenets should prove helpful as you determine which path is right for you and the students you serve.

What does contemporary classical homeschooling mean?

Classical education as a home schooling model first became popular as the 20th century gave way to the 21st and has remained so since. For those of us who began home schooling in the 1980s, classical education was the new kid on the block.  As with any fad, it swept many in its wake and provided some folks with solutions to the failing standards they saw in public education as well as in the more relaxed homeschooling model.  Its emphasis on a rigorous academic approach seemed to guarantee the creation of scholars who would take positions of leadership in law, medicine, government and so forth.  This would be achieved through implementing the trivium as we noted in our previous post.

Stage One: The Grammar Stage

Early Greek educators did not view education as the process of three distinct stages, but as soon as students could read and write they were reading the classic Greek texts.
Early Greek educators did not view education as the process of three distinct stages; as soon as students could read and write they were reading the classic Greek texts.
Modern classical proponents ascribe to the notion that learning takes place in three distinct 4-year phases of a student’s life. While these phases may seem to correlate to the physical and intellectual development of the child, the bland acceptance of them can prove problematic. In the grammar stage of the classical approach (also known as the poll-parrot stage), emphasis is placed on pouring into the student facts (indeed “masses of information”-as one promoter put it) as children are supposedly sponges ready and willing to soak up facts of every kind, and can easily memorize these facts. Theoretically, later on, in the logic stage, these facts will be drawn upon as the child begins to reason. While this approach fits some students well, especially those gifted in memorization, other students, particularly those not gifted with the ability to retain masses of disparate facts, flounder. The focus on pouring information into a young child is based on the notion that in the grammar stage children will unquestioningly accept what is offered.
But is this 4-year cycle based upon a truly classical approach to education?  Did the ancients view education through this 12-year paradigm to which modern classical proponents ascribe?  As Diane Lockman points out in her helpful article “Classical Education Made Easier“, the ancient Greeks did not separate the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages. Students became proficient in reading, reasoning and speaking as they studied the classic texts of Greek literature with an emphasis on copy work and reading and reciting aloud.
An authentic classical Christian education, as developed during the ancient Greco-Roman world and later refined by the Western Europeans and American colonists, involved mastering three fundamental skills so that the student could then explore the deeper meaning of abstract ideas for the purpose of influencing society.  Three chronological stages were never part of the original interpretation.
The Charlotte Mason approach asserts that all children, regardless of age, are capable of reason, delight, appreciation of beauty, and  that “Education should aim at giving knowledge touched with emotion” (For the Children’s Sake). Pouring information into a child for the mere goal of “filling the brain with facts” defies the essential nature of classical education–the desire to teach children to think. True education cannot ignore the spirit of the child, his basic need to feel connected in some way to the studies at tumblr_moe00wJ7U91rrs6fio1_500hand.  At Beautiful Feet we believe this is done through literature’s emotional connection–the ability to identify with others through the power of stories of literary beauty and historical import.  A quick narrative read of historical facts (standard fare in most classical approaches) that offers no literary beauty and no connection to the great questions of the human condition, fails to meet the standards of a truly classical education.

Begin at the beginning: the four-year cycle of history study?

Additionally, the current classical notion that history studies must begin at the beginning (with ancient history in first grade) is another layer of artificial construction upon an already artificial 12-year model.  Classical education’s promotion of a four-year cycle of history instruction seems reasonable and the repetition (“what we don’t get the first time around, we’ll be sure to pick up next time!”) provides reassurance.  While the four-year cycle approach does provide that revisiting, it doesn’t consider the question of age and developmental appropriateness for subject matter. This concern is dismissed by promoting the notion that while studying ancient history with your first grader, one can just focus on mummification, gladiators, and chariot races; in effect this belies the basic notion that ancient history can be taught to a first grader.  The resultant “classical” studies are cultural in nature, not historical. Indeed, Oxford Reference defines history as “the study of past events, particularly in human affairs”–the study of history necessitates the focus on events.

History, taught classically  . . .

So how does one approach historical studies with a truly classical view to nurturing in young students reading, reasoning, and speaking skills? In essence, this can be accomplished in much the same way as the ancient Greeks did it–by exposing children to the best age-appropriate literature which is relevant to their times and culture.  For a young American child this means the best children’s books on the early saga of America’s great story, much as the Greeks read Homer and studied Plato–the stories of their ancestors, the history of their nation.  A child gifted with the knowledge and appreciation of his own historical heritage better understands his or her place in the world and from that foundation can embrace the beauty and the heritage of other nations and cultures.

So, how does this answer our question, “Is Beautiful Feet Books classical?”  If one looks at some contemporary notions of classical, then the answer would be, “No.”  On the other hand, if one perceives classical as incorporating Socratic reasoning and discussion, engaging with timeless literature (age appropriate), eschewing the use of textbooks and bland narrative works, and involving students in the Great Conversation about the important issues of the human heart, then yes, Beautiful Feet Books is classical.

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

BFB Essentials: What is Classical anyway and who was Charlotte Mason?

This is Part III in our BFB Essentials Series. 
Click on the links to read Part I and Part II

“Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past.  Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion.  A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.” –C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

What is Classical?

The term "classical" is one that has been bandied about the homeschooling movement for years and we are often asked if our curriculum is "classical". Answering this seemingly simple question has proven difficult as we find that there are as many definitions of the term "classical education" as there are curricula. People can purchase curriculum to teach "classical handwriting" and "classical science." This poses a challenge as it seems that everyone has their own conception of what it means to adopt a "classical" education approach.

The Modern Classical Movement

Classical education, in its modern use of the term, refers simply to an educational approach built around the trivium, or three-part process that aims to train the mind. The three parts refer to three stages: the grammar stage, the logic stage, and the rhetoric stage. Each of the three stages corresponds to four years, so during grades 1-4 the student is in the grammar stage and studying the basics, laying a foundation for the next stage. This approach to the four year cycle is relatively new, a product of educational bureaucracy at the turn of the 20th century when it was determined that public schools would be required to provide twelve years of education. While the idea of "classical" education has existed from the early Medieval period, its proponents argue that it is rooted in ancient philosophy, employing the methods used by Socrates and Plato. The modern classical movement also takes much from the "Great Books" movement, advocating that students and parents take part in the "Great Conversation" that has existed between the premier thinkers of all time. This is accomplished through exposure to the best literary works of the West.

Teaching History "Classically"

As we at BFB are primarily concerned with teaching history, let's take a look at how the trivium impacts the teaching of history. First, a classical approach advocates that all of world history be taught in four years. So from grades 1-4, a student is presented with a chronological world history. This four year pattern is repeated three times before the student graduates from high school. Obviously, this means that the history of the ancient world including Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, China, and more is presented in 1st grade. The Medieval period is generally taught in grade 2, the age of exploration and discovery in grade 3, and modern/contemporary history in grade 4. The cycle then begins at the beginning with the ancient world being taught again in grade 5, and so on and so forth. During the grammar stage memorization is emphasized. This is where classical education advocates argue that a student is most readily able to absorb facts. During these years students are often taught chants in which they memorize historically relevant trivia such as the names of the US presidents or the dates of key events. It is not until the later years that students are exposed to the great literary works of Western culture.

Charlotte Mason and Classical Education

Now that the trivium and "classical" education has been very basically defined, let's take a look at another educational approach that has been hugely influential in our own educational journey. Charlotte Mason, a British educator who lived during the late 1800s believed education was an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. Boiling Mason's pedagogy to its very basic elements reveals an educational approach designed to create a pleasant environment that would encourage the development of life-long learners, and cultivate curiosity and discovery. This required wide exposure to literature, conversation, exploration, and the arts. 

Charlotte Mason fervently advocated the use of "living books" to teach history, eschewing the dry textbooks that were being promoted at the time. These living books relayed information in a story form, allowing children to begin seeing history in terms of a human story and not simply a collection of facts. 

Hopefully we have helped clear up some of the confusion surrounding the terms "classical" and "Charlotte Mason". In our next entry we will answer the question we are most often asked, "Is BFB classical?"

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here.
And if you've enjoyed this, please feel free to share using the buttons below! 

Monday, March 28, 2016

BFB Essentials: Why Teach History Through Literature?

Hello! Today we bring you Part II in our series BFB Essentials. Rea is answering the question, "Why teach history through literature." For Part I, Why Teach History, click here
History is the essence of innumerable biographies. –Thomas Carlyle

Why Teach History through Literature? by Rea Berg

In our first installment of this series, we looked at the importance of the study of history. When we consider the question of how history ought to be taught and why we would consider teaching  history through literature, there are some interesting points to bear in mind: 1.  How has history been taught through the ages?  2. Why use literature to teach history?  3. Why is the use of literature the most effective way to learn history?

How has history been taught through the ages?

Waves of immigrants posed challenges to 19th century educators
Waves of immigrants posed challenges to 19th century educators
In the nineteenth century, with the dawn of compulsory education in America, schools were forced to begin to standardize what should be taught to all these children sitting eight hours a day at their obligatory desks. Because the dawn of compulsory education coincided with industrialization and with a massive influx of immigrants, educators felt motivated, from a sometimes elitist mindset, to educate the masses for the purposes of creating a literate work force.  Presented with the challenge of getting all these children from varying backgrounds on the same educational “page”, it is easy to see how the textbook naturally evolved.  Certain events, personages, significant battles and historical milestones were deemed essential knowledge for the creation of good citizens and a stable workforce.  These “facts” were compiled into disseminated formats stripped of the narrative elements of story, resulting in dry works of little human interest and no literary value.
Standardizing the teaching of history spelled the death knell for creating any love of history in that rising generation of new Americans. It alparisso flew in the face of how history was taught for centuries.  From ancient times forward students studied history by reading history.  In other words, if a student say, in the Middle Ages, was studying history he read the works of Herodotus, Thucydides, Eusebius, Plutarch and Josephus. Of course, if you were a young French boy studying in a monastic school in Paris, reading these works meant learning Greek, Latin, and in some cases Hebrew, for ancient histories were not translated into vernacular languages until the late 1200s.  In some instances, it would be centuries before these ancient classic texts appeared in English.  An English schoolboy in London, would not have had Plutarch’s Parallel Lives in English until the late 1500s.   This is one reason why a classical education was always inextricably linked with the study of Latin and Greek.

Why use literature to teach history?

Our ancient young predecessors, sitting by candlelight or lamplight, reading history, actually read history through literature.  There simply was no other way to study history–which brings us to our second point. History has effectively been taught through literature since ancient times.  Only just the last century or so has this vibrant subject been robbed of its human connection by the ubiquitous textbook.  As Neil Postman urges in his book, The End of Education, those who desire to improve teaching ought to get rid of all textbooks which, in his opinion are “the enemies of education, instruments for promoting dogmatism and trivial learning” (116).  Exchanging literature–biographies, classical works, even historical fiction, for the history textbook not only restores this discipline to its historic roots, but also reinvigorates it with its inherent passion, human interest, and wonder.  A middle-grade child reading Johnny Tremain for her studies of the American Revolution will learn far more about the essence of that struggle than even the most colorful textbook could ever impart.

Why is the use of literature the most effective way to teach history?

Literature, as defined by the Oxford reference is “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.”  Now, I’m not sure about you, but I have yet to hear of a single history textbook to win a Pulitzer or a Nobel prize for Literature.  Written works achieve the status of literary merit by their ability to speak to the human condition and the experiences, trials, and aspirations of the human heart. In this way, the best works draw the reader into the drama of the story and through the emotions open the mind.  David McCullough, Pulitzer prize-winner for his work John Adams, affirms that the most effective way to teach history is to “tell stories.”9780684813639_p0_v2_s260x420
That’s what history is: a story.  And what’s a story? E. M. Forster gave a wonderful definition to it: If I say to you the king died and then the queen died, that’s a sequence of events.  If I say the king died and the queen died of grief, that’s a story.  That’s human. That calls for empathy on the part of the teller of the story and . . . the listener to the story. (“Knowing History”)
The notion of emotion and empathy as a critical component of history’s ability to speak to the human heart, was promoted by Charlotte Mason, the 19th century educational reformer. She advocated the use of “living books”–literature, history, biography—”to open limitless avenues of discovery in a child’s mind”.  She taught that all, “Education should aim at giving knowledge touched with emotion” (For the Children’s Sake). It is the connection between the human heart, mind, and will, that makes the study of history so enjoyable and memorable to those fortunate to study it through the best books. As a wonderful by-product, students brought up on an educational curriculum rich in the best literature often become compassionate, engaged, and thoughtful adults–the best possible educational outcome.

Works Cited:
“Knowing History and Who We Are.”  David McCullough.  Imprimis.  Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College. April 2005.
Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1984.

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here.
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Sunday, March 27, 2016

BFB Essentials: Why Teach History?

Over the next few days we will be reposting a series on BFB Essentials for anyone new to this blog and BFB. This will answer some very foundational questions for those of you who are looking into our approach to history including things like why teach history in the first place, who was Charlotte Mason, what is a Charlotte Mason approach, why use literature instead of textbooks, and much much more! We hope you find it helpful and enlightening.

BFB Essentials: Why Teach History? By Rebecca Berg Manor

Hello! We are excited to introduce a new series on our blog called BFB Essentials. We will be answering questions like "Why teach history?" and "Is BFB classical?" and "What's the point of using literature to teach history when textbooks make it so easy?" We hope you find it useful and would love to hear from you so feel free to email us with questions ( and comments. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section. Let's get a conversation going! Without further ado, here we go!

Why Teach History?

For many who grew up and were educated in a traditional schoolroom setting the study of history may seem a bit pointless. How often have you been asked the date of the fall of Rome? Sure it was interesting to learn about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, but has that knowledge ever served you? And now you've decided to homeschool your children or are involved in teaching and history is a required subject. Or maybe your child is asking you, "Why do I need to know any of this anyway?" 

The fact that this question is now a common one points to an increasingly utilitarian view of education. In many ways the answer to the question of why to teach history comes down to one's educational philosophy. Is the purpose of education simply preparation for entering the workforce or is it something more? If you believe, as we do, that education goes beyond employee training, then like us, you probably believe in the importance of rich historical study. If you have a philosophy of education that includes training in critical thinking skills, reason, citizenship, and the formation of character, you probably have a great respect for the study of history. Unfortunately that educational philosophy, while ascribed to by many, is rarely held in conviction by educators and certainly not reflected in government mandates. Current statistics on student's knowledge of the basic facts of US history reveal a disturbing ignorance which belies any devotion to the study of history. Education is viewed as valuable in so far as it prepares young people to be good employees. And yes, education should prepare young people for adult lives, of which work is an important and valuable part, but it has a much deeper value in training young people to be compassionate, thoughtful, and engaged members of their communities. 

How did we get here? 

Over the past century the study of history has been increasingly isolated from the other disciplines. Beginning in the 19th century textbooks became the primary mode of teaching history. The drive towards standardization within classrooms drove the development of the textbook and it proved useful for subjects like math and science. Unfortunately for teaching a subject as vibrant as history, the adoption of textbooks stripped the subject of all its life. Where history was once the study of our human story and was filled with tales of adventure, heroic quests, stupefying failures, humorous dunces, and wicked villains, it became a collection of names and dates to be chanted over and over until they were firmly fixed in young minds. One can picture the one-room school houses with their strict schoolmarm, pointer in hand, drilling facts into the heads of students as they chant away the names of the presidents, dates of various battles, etc. Now, this approach, still employed by some educational approaches, is a great way to instill a knowledge of facts, but it's not so great for teaching students to engage with history, to form informed opinions, to discuss ideas. 

History as more than facts

From the beginning of time, we human beings have been storytellers. Long before people thought up the idea of "history" we were telling one another stories from the past, connecting our short lives with a long chain of others who came before us. Whether it was relating creation narratives or listing genealogies, whether it took place around a tribal circle or in the marble forums of ancient Greece, these stories were our first "histories". Often thought of as myths now, they provided ancient peoples with a context for the human story. Part of the human condition is the ability to question our place in this world and history provides part of the answer. In relating the human story and connecting ourselves with the vast pageant of people who came before us, we get to know ourselves a little better. We can see our lives within the context of something greater than ourselves. And history provides invaluable lessons in how to conduct ourselves. We can learn from the fascinating successes and failures of people who are not so different from us, but who lived in the centuries before us. This is the greater purpose of history–and it is lost when distilled down to basic names, dates, and "facts". 

But what about getting a job?

Now you may be thinking this is all great, but who is going to hire someone who isn't adequately prepared for a job? In our current economic climate the in vogue career paths are all about technology and medicine. Both of these career paths require specialized training and many education wonks are
advocating that we start teaching computer coding and advanced math in elementary school. This could be very short sighted. It is no longer a world where one can choose a career path and expect to work within that chosen field for the entirety of one's career. The average young person will change jobs/careers fifteen times in his or her lifetime. That's probably 12 times more than his parents and could be 14 times more than his grandparents. In a job market that is so fluid, the skills required are not necessarily highly specialized. Yes, it's a good idea to know how to write computer code, but it's more valuable to be able to think critically, to be creative and innovative, to understand human nature, make rational arguments, be an engaged reader, a thoughtful writer, and a thorough researcher. The study of history taught holistically provides these skills. And so you may find yourself asking, how do I teach history "properly"? That question will be answered in our next entry in this series. In the mean time, leave a comment below telling us about your experiences in learning and teaching history. 

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here.
And if you've enjoyed this, please feel free to share using the buttons below! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Choosing Freedom in Education

By Rebecca Berg Manor

I have been so encouraged in recent years to see a movement within homeschooling that's closely tied with the philosophy of Charlotte Mason and encourages an approach to education that goes beyond replicating a classroom within our homes. These homeschoolers embrace nature study, love literature, are character-focused in their teaching, and have a whole lot of fun! Some of the proponents of this approach document their education journeys and philosophies here and here and here and here and I'd encourage you to check them out. They embrace the freedom that can come from choosing this alternative path to educating our children and it is lovely to see and inspiring. 

In choosing to homeschool, we can view the choice as the undertaking of a huge responsibility, or we can see it as a choice towards freedom: the freedom to educate our children as individuals, the freedom to take school outside on a beautiful day, the freedom to stop a science lesson in order to
focus on a character-teaching moment, the freedom to step away from the demands of a frenetic world and choose to build an environment of peace within our homes. Seeing families do this across the country in their own unique ways has been so fun for me to witness. 

And it is proven that educating in this way is good for our children. Public schools are eliminating recess in order to teach for tests demanded by short-sighted politicians and classical academies feel pressure to stress academics beginning in Pre-K programs despite the fact that numerous studies have shown both approaches fail our students. Instead giving children room to explore, grow, and question develops the natural curiosity with which they are born. All children are born learners and embracing and encouraging this gift requires much less structured learning then we've been led to believe. Of course, there is a time for structure and discipline as these are aspects of education and character-training as well. It's finding the balance that works for your family and then tweaking it as needed. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by homeschooling or just in a "it's nearly the end of the school year
and I'm feeling crazy" slump, I encourage you to take advantage of the warmer weather, skip the carefully planned lessons, and get outside with your children. Go explore for a day. Visit a museum. Go on a nature hike. Have a poetry tea-time. Play hookey - it's not going to wreck all the work you've put in to this year. You will probably find yourself refreshed, see your children with new eyes, and be ready to buckle down until the next break arrives. And if you need inspiration - hop over to Instagram where you can follow #wildandfreechildren for more inspiration. These families show that there are a million unique ways to embrace freedom in your homeschool. 

And, if you're like me and enjoy reading articles on education and what the research is saying about it, here are some good ones: 


At BFB we've been firm believers in flexible education for over 30 years. Our study guides are specifically set up to give parents the structure they want along with the ability to customize the curriculum to their own families. Each guide provides study notes, activities, and thought-provoking comprehension questions to encourage discussion of ideas and the development of rational thinking. Hands-on activities are encouraged over fill-in-the-blank worksheets. 

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How Stories Create Us

by Rebecca Berg Manor

Recently, during some training sessions at my church I've been reminded of how essential it is to know our own stories. Not only do our stories help us understand where we've come from as individuals, they help us see a greater narrative unfolding in our families and communities. Even having an understanding of what one's name means is so important. I recently discovered that my name has an entirely different meaning from the one that I was told growing up and that revelation is reshaping my understanding of myself, and in the process, giving me a greater appreciation for the gifts with which I've been entrusted. Stories hold great power, both individual narratives, and broader ones dealing with families, communities, and even nations. 

Here we often extol the power of story to educate, develop character, encourage, etc. And research clearly shows that developing a "strong family narrative" is one of the best things you can do for your family. Dr. Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University has researched families for decades and honed in on one aspect of his work to try to discover what kept families together. In an era where divorce and family dissolution is rampant, he was interested in finding out what families could do to counteract this trend. In a fortunate twist, his wife works with children with learning disabilities and she was noticing that the students who were the most successful in navigating the challenges their disability posed were those who seemed to know a lot about their families. So Dr. Duke decided to dig deeper. Read the article here for the whole story as it's definitely worthwhile. 

Points that stuck out to me were that in numerous tests the results were always the same: "The more
children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness."

This finding was tested in an extreme way when the September 11 attack happened. And the results held. The children who had a sense of who they were in relationship to a family history were better equipped and more emotionally resilient.

As a child I loved hearing the stories of my parent's childhoods. My dad had hilarious stories about his friends, who he gave nicknames like Meat Man and Bean Bun. My mom would tell us about how she and her seven siblings once thought their neighbor was hanging his wife, only to discover she had a bad back and was being suspended by her feet to get some relief from her chronic pain. We would laugh over the bullies who stole my dad's lunch and smashed bananas on his head. Both of my parents are consummate story tellers and I doubt that they were intentionally trying to create a "family narrative" but that is what they were doing. I also spent hours reading through a collection of stories recorded by a great aunt about her father, my great grandfather, growing up in North Dakota when it was still pretty wild. There were funny stories, boring stories, stories of adventure, stories of failure, and stories of success. And that brings me to a very important point. In the research, the psychologists found that there are three types of family narrative:
"First, the ascending family narrative: 'Son, when we came to this country, we had nothing. Our family worked. We opened a store. Your grandfather went to high school. Your father went to college. And now you....'
Second is the descending narrative: 'Sweetheart, we used to have it all. Then we lost everything.'”
'The most healthful narrative,' Dr. Duke continued, 'is the third one. It’s called the oscillating family narrative: "Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family." ' ”
It is essential that the family story not be whitewashed, nor ought it to be all doom and gloom. Of course, waiting until a child is of an appropriate age to reveal more mature details is wise, but children need a realistic and accurate understanding of their roots.

And I think this can be extrapolated out to a broader level. Could it be that one of the reasons our nation is so fractured is because we have failed to maintain a national narrative? History is taught not as a story but as facts to memorize and forget after a test. Both on a national level and a wider human level the loss of our story has very sad consequences. If knowing the stories of our families makes us want to work harder to keep them together and gives us a strong sense of belong and identity, wouldn't the same be true about a national narrative? Wouldn't it be helpful if our elected officials had a historical perspective and knew that our country has been deeply fractured in the past but pulled together for a greater good? Might it be better to have a fully colored history taught in our schools that recognized our nations strengths as well as her failures? And is it possible that greater human narrative may show us that we're not so different from everyone else? It may be a simplistic to think that but perhaps if we instill a strong sense of our family story within our children, they will go on to think more broadly and see the benefits of working together to preserve the things we love.

So if you don't already, start telling your children the stories of your childhood. Tell them how their grandparents met, if their marriage was a happy one or maybe a strained one. Tell them about that strange uncle who was always off doing his own thing, or that gossipy sister, or the caring aunt who was a second mother. You'll be surprised by how much your children absorb and take with them. And spend time reading about our human history. Here are some of our favorite titles for learning about our nation and this incredible world we inhabit. It's something we at BFB believe in passionately and is a driving force behind why we publish the following titles. These are all books that inform us of who we are as a nation. They tell us of our place in a greater international narrative. These are the books we love to rescue from being out-of-print. 

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