Students Deserve To Be Storytellers

Students Deserve To Be Storytellers

Positioning students as storytellers is necessary, not only to better understand student perspectives, but also to more deeply understand the policy issues themselves.

Education politics have dominated news cycles in recent years, manifested in fiery parent debate at school board meetings and growing school choice movements. Headline after headline have reported on these topics.

However, there’s a key question often gone unanswered: who is telling these stories and writing these headlines? In almost all cases, the answer is not us. Not us students and young people. Positioning students as storytellers is necessary, not only to better understand student perspectives, but also to more deeply understand the policy issues themselves.

Take media literacy, for example. Across the country and in New York State, policymakers, teachers, and students have led advocacy for media literacy education. Legislation including S8217 in New York take strides towards this direction, outlining policies such as requiring a school library media specialist in each school within k12 range, and requiring teachers to complete professional development related to media literacy education.

This legislation is critical for teaching students how to learn, interpret and think critically about stories; stories of science, politics, and our world at large. This is unbelievably critical. 

Also, important — and less discussed — is the growing power of students to be the actual storytellers ourselves. How do we see the world?

This school year, with the DemocracyReady NY Youth Cohort, me and other students from across New York State interviewed our peers, asking them to tell their stories. Specifically, we interviewed our peers about their experiences as students, learning civic education and media literacy. Our team learned quite a bit:

One student shared, “I think civic education should teach you what your constitutional rights are, what your state rights are, how to be and what it looks like to be a democratic citizen, what to vote for, what to vote against, and lastly what our individual rights as high school students are.”

“They should know that technology makes it easier for students to do some stuff like translating words, find examples or do what they need to do, So I think they should know that technology can be distract[ing] but also It can help them,” was the story shared by another high school student.

Both of these students — and every other individual we interviewed — offered insightful thoughts and questions, and simply, their stories. These stories offer an important opportunity for grounding education policies and politics. We need to be having these conversations more often, especially in schools. 

Storytelling can be a fantastic way to facilitate more meaningful and interactive curriculum, particularly in schools. In the civics classroom specifically, storytelling can provide an excellent opportunity to think through civic issues all around us, recognizing how tangible each singular issue is. 

Additionally, storytelling relates to social-emotional development, another hot topic in education news. By investing in student storytelling, we are telling students that their perspectives are valuable and deserve to be uplifted. We are investing in students. 

How does this look in practice? In the classroom, many educators are leading this sort of work. StoryCorps has designed and curated resources for facilitating conversation and storytelling within their classrooms. In my hometown, the Syracuse City School District has partnered with the local government to create a Youth Advisory Council, a free, intensive program for students to learn about their local civic landscape and then contribute to it, telling our own stories to city councilors and our mayor. 

Storytelling is not just a pedagogical practice, though. Instead, it is one of the truest forms of student advocacy. At DemocracyReady NY, my peers and I have used storytelling for our advocacy for greater media literacy education in our schools. 

I hope you’ll join us, and I can’t wait to hear what stories are next.

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