‘To understand somebody, understand what shaped them, understand their story’ 

I had never truly appreciated the true power of narrative until I met Clint and his students. The power to oppress and the power to liberate — the way narrative frames our entire understanding of being and place. Here are some thoughts..

We are all storytellers and we all play audience to the stories of others. We use stories to make sense of the world around us and our place within it — and so do our students.

At its simplest, a story is an account of a set of events, but in reality it is much more. As storyteller’s we get to make choices about what information to include and exclude, when to start the story and when to end it, the tone in which it is delivered, the voices we privilege and the voices we ignore. We add our own analysis, our own philosophy, our own judgement — these choices define the narrative, and the narrative defines our understanding of the story.

Within a society we are constantly hearing wider stories through politics, the media and education. Stories that claim to reflect and make meaning of our shared reality. These stories shape how we make sense of our experiences, and our relationship to the experiences of others. But who is telling the dominant stories? Who is framing the narrative by which we understand our reality?

In the context of Clint Smith and his students, as in most contexts globally, the voices of people from low income and minority communities are often excluded from this societal narrative. Also often missing, is a deep and honest analysis of the history that shapes the current context in which they live. This is not an accident. These narratives allow those who hold the most power in society to control how we understand those who have the least. Disconnecting a context from the history that shaped it and excluding the voices of those most affected can lead a society to view its low income and minority communities through a distorted lens. This lens shapes how we perceive our students, their communities and the role we play within the context we work. Likewise it shapes how our students perceive themselves.

This challenges us think about the role of education in this equation. To what extent does ‘education’ currently perpetuate the dominant narratives of society as defined by those who have the most power? And how could it instead be a place where narratives are named, interrogated and reframed in a way that is representative of the voices of the unheard and the histories that have been suppressed.

Clint and his students show us that by recognizing the distortions of the societal lens, examining how and by whom this lens was shaped, interrogating the context in which we work and the history that shaped it and by elevating the voices of the unheard — we can, together with our students challenge the distortions and caricatures that our societies impose.

  • What are the dominant narratives in your society that shape the lens through which your students and their communities are viewed?
  • How do these narratives shape your own personal lens and how you view your students and their communities?
  • How might these narratives shape how your students view themselves and their communities?
  • What actions do you see Clint and his students take to disrupt and reframe those narratives in their classroom?
  • How might you and your students act to disrupt and reframe the dominant narratives in your context?

This film was created by Faolan Jones for Teach For All. 

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