Storytelling has always been a primary mode of learning in indigenous communities. Before colonization and “settler” education systems were placed upon indigenous peoples, storytelling was the way in which wisdom, often carried through generations, was conveyed to children. Today it is as relevant as ever and an integral part of how Alma delivers indigenous education.
When we talk about education based on local context or wisdom I think that we are summoning the past generations’ wisdom and the knowledge learned from the local land, weather, and animals. The information is integrated into narratives, songs, interactions, and cultural practices. This is how knowledge is shared and imparted and therefore defines “literacy” in the communities where we work and any place where oral traditions are strong. We try to make this literacy the core of our pedagogy. Because it is based on the local place it is easily experiential which makes it fun, relevant and meaningful. Sometimes we use books, cameras, and computers but only after information is gathered from traditional sources through, essentially, storytelling.
Storytelling promotes critical thinking because there are multiple meanings that can come from the same story and because indigenous stories, in particular, do not have set structures. A story is rarely told the same way twice and the lessons drawn from a given story can vary from listener to listener and how they are interpreted adds an opportunity for critical thinking.
Storytelling is interactive, it requires verbal articulation and active listening. It promotes feelings of empathy between the storyteller and the listener. It allows the listener to step into the storyteller’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. This allows for communication, which is something that human culture of any kind, not just indigenous cultures, largely depend on. We are social animals and the most recent “leading edge” educational theories suggest that empathy, listening, and “playing well with others” should be the goals of education everywhere.
-Alan Harman, Founder Alma Foundation