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The Educational Power of Stories

Much has been written about the power of words, their organization into stories and the ability of listeners to remember them in story format. One can easily picture a pre-written society, using the oral tradition as the essential way for educating the young and keeping track of their history. With the advent of writing, the computer, and texting there seems to be a shortening of story formats to where they might become extinct.

But I don’t think so because the structure of story progression—from introduction to main body and conclusion—provides continuity in us no matter how or when we choose to let it out.  I think we’re always telling the story of our lives as we speak, write or text. And one of the reasons I know this is my fortunate circumstance to have a talking and listening mother.

My mother, Katherine Hobson Southworth, passed away last week and I will miss her! And I will really miss exchanging stories with her. She was a master storyteller who wove the fabric of our family together through stories of conflict and hope, struggle and success. We would listen to her tell us about the latest chapter of the book she was reading and it would be a superb recap. She could connect our St. Louis roots with our Denver-based family. She could find the sadness and the joy in the stories she told. I found lots of novels over-written because I so admired the brevity of her re-telling, the sharpness of her detailed descriptions and the conciseness of the action.

She was an even better listener. A very unusual combination of traits, talker and listener, she made her listening into the art of caring for other’s words. Her dual ability to talk and listen made story-telling with her compelling and valuable conversation. I would argue that this is an example of the educational power of stories, that they must involve the teller and the listener, and this dynamic is what I learned and practiced with Mum. In today’s shifting sands of communicating through technology, we must continue to tell the important stories of our lives and listen to the important stories of other people’s lives. It is a gift she gave to her friends and family and I feel certain it will continue to be important to our society going forward.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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