I am currently working on creating a digital story which will tell the story of my search to find the perfect puppy. I have been thinking a lot about the role of stories in schools and in life, especially after reading Daniel Pink’s “Story.” All of these thoughts have reminded me of something that I read as a college freshman but had completely forgotten about: The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination by Robert Coles.
Robert Coles’ educational philosophy is based on his experience as a resident psychologist in a psychiatric ward. His encounter with two different supervisors allowed him to compare and contrast different methods of “treating” patients. The first supervisor, Dr. Binger, was very famous in the field, and his practices were based on theory and objectivity. He instructed Coles to maintain a distance from his patients, decide what he believed to be the problem, and then prescribe a treatment.
Dr. Ludwig, on the other hand, encouraged Coles to be more open to listening. He told Coles to let the patients tell him their story. He must then interpret the patient’s story correctly. In order to do so, Coles cannot be objective, he must be subjective.
Each approach led to very different results. Dr. Binger’s method caused Coles to be distanced from the patient and to decide on a diagnosis before really listening to or even visiting the patient. Dr. Ludwig’s approach on the other hand, allowed Coles to really learn from each patient and their experiences. Each person told a story and it was Coles’ job to interpret it. Coles describes what is most valuable about the stories: “Our patients all too often come to us with preconceived notions of what matters, what doesn’t matter, what should be stressed, what should be overlooked, just as we come with our own lines of inquiry. [Dr. Ludwig] pointed out that patients shape their accounts accordingly, even as we shape what we have heard into our own version of someone’s troubles” (13,14). Patients answer questions based on what they think we need to hear and may not know that other aspects of their lives may be even more important.
The point is Coles’ experiences directly relate to education. Dr. Ludwig’s method of storytelling is based on respect and trust. Without the patient’s trust, the doctor cannot effectively treat him or her. Similarly, in an educational setting, the teacher must gain the trust of the student in order for the student to be open to learning. It also illustrates that teachers and students can learn from one another. In his sessions, Coles became the student, while the patient became the teacher. The roles of student and teacher sometimes interchange. The learning environment becomes open and “safe.” Students trust that they can express their own views, while still welcoming other opinions. Another important principle is that expectations can affect the outcome. As Coles learned, a doctor’s expectations of a patient can lead to an incorrect or incomplete diagnosis. Both doctors and teachers need to rid themselves of these types of preconceived notions. The contrast between Dr. Binger and Dr. Ludwig most pointedly illustrates a teacher’s purpose. Dr. Binger instructed Coles based on what he thought was important. Dr. Ludwig, on the other hand, listened to Coles and tried to guide him. Dr. Ludwig was most effective because he showed Coles, not what to learn, but how to learn. Shouldn’t that be every teacher’s aim?