Life Lessons through Storytelling
Children's Exploration of Ethics
Publication Year: 2010
Storytelling empowers children to engage in discussions; explore ideas about power, respect, community, fairness, equality, and justice; and help frame their understanding of complex ethical issues within a society. In Life Lessons through Storytelling, Donna Eder interviews elementary students and presents their responses to stories from different cultures. Using Aesop's fables and Kenyan and Navajo storytelling traditions as models for classroom use, Eder demonstrates the value of a cross-cultural approach to teaching through storytelling, while providing deep insights into the social psychology of learning.
Published by: Indiana University Press
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Donna Eder, with the assistance of Regina Holyan and her other collaborators, has produced an exquisite interdisciplinary study of storytelling as a vehicle for children’s social and ethical learning. She explores Aesop’s fables and Kenyan folktales to show how open-ended storytelling leads to a variety of meanings and lessons, many of which reflect children’s own ethical dilemmas...
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This book shows how communities can be strengthened through the use of storytelling with children. I chose to study children’s ethical explorations through storytelling because I believe we need to approach ethical concerns related to youth in a proactive manner. In a previous book, I tried to address problems of bullying and ridicule in schools through a conflict intervention...
2. Strengthening Community through Storytelling
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This project began more than ten years ago when I read a book on a Native American approach to education, in particular, that of the Tewa Indians. One line in the book jumped out at me. Gregory Cajete (1994) wrote that storytelling should be part of the education of all children in American schools, not just Native American children. This line triggered my interest in studying children’s experiences with storytelling. I did not know...
3. Drawing on Oral Traditions for a Contemporary Storytelling Event
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In the previous chapter we saw how knowledge and community are intertwined in many cultures. As Navajos pass down stories from their childhood, they are strengthening a sense of community by promoting continuity with past generations. Likewise, many Kenyans view storytelling as a dynamic, communal event that strengthens community bonds through shared participation...
4. Of Fables and Children
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Aesop’s fables have been read by children and adults for many centuries. Aesop was once a slave, and it is believed that his cunning and wisdom helped him to gain his freedom from Iadmon, his owner in Greece. Even though Aesop did not actually tell all the fables attributed to him, it is not surprising that the oldest surviving editions of these fables emphasize themes of power, injustice, and respect for all. But have these themes survived over the centuries...
5. “The Wolf Really Wasn’t Wicked”: Ethical Complexities and “Troubled” Students
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“The Wolf and the Crane” is one of the most popular fables, appearing in six of the seven contemporary editions. In this version by Hill as told by the storyteller, we can see two competing ethical concerns.1 On the one hand, it portrays a wolf that did not provide an expected reward for having the bone removed from his throat. On the other hand, we hear of a crane that requires a reward for doing a kind act. Perhaps because this fable does...
6. Rabbit Tales (Tails): Kenyan Stories with Multiple Meanings (with Tiffani Saunders)
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The rabbit is a common character in Kenyan stories. He (usually a male) represents a small animal that solves problems through cleverness and wit, as in “The Great Drought,” quoted above as told by the storyteller. Many stories show the rabbit in battles with more powerful animals or with powerful humans. In this regard...
7. “It’s Hard to Admit, But Sometimes You Get Jealous”: Lessons from the Hyena (with Oluwatope Fashola)
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In this Kenyan story from the Kikuyu tribe as told by the storyteller, a hyena fails to provide the vulture with a good meal in return for having dined well at his house. In Kenya the hyena is used to symbolize selfishness and greed, so for many Kenyans this message of greed would immediately come to mind. However, the American children to whom we told this story had little previous...
8. The Next Stage: Putting It into Practice
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It is my hope that this book will encourage others to make use of storytelling to promote children’s exploration of ethics. Teachers are clearly one group that might choose this approach. All the classrooms we worked with for this study regularly used some topic-based learning, which makes it easy to incorporate storytelling into other classroom activities. Teachers in such classrooms could devote an entire unit to storytelling, whereas other...
9. Coming Full Circle: Cross-Cultural Lessons
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As mentioned in the introduction, the idea for this study came from the writings of Gregory Cajete, a Tewa Indian. I now return to the topic of cross-cultural learning as a way to come full circle. In this chapter I will describe some of the deeper lessons I learned about cultural differences during the process of doing this study. I will also discuss the implications of this approach to storytelling for improving relations across ethnic boundaries...
Appendix A: A Multimethod Approach to Storytelling
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Appendix B: Examples of Focus Group Interview Questions
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Appendix C: Editions of Aesop’s Fables
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Page Count: 190
Publication Year: 2010