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Once Upon a Time: Situating Story at the Center of Teaching

Posted on September 23, 2013 by in The OFI Blog


Regina Sierra Carter spent her summer as the Goldman Sachs Multicultural Junior Fellow at the National Museum of American History. She now studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign completing coursework towards a dual degree: MLIS in library and information science and Ph.D. in education policy, organization, and leadership. Read about her experiences below!

Over the summer, I have had the privilege to design lesson plans for the National Youth Summit on the 1964 Freedom Summer Project.  As I labored to craft relevant and captivating lessons, I summoned the spirit of my 6-12th grade self and happened upon a treasure trove of wisdom.  In order to teach, I must first learn and master my subject matter.  Moreover, after further contemplation, I surmised that one of the best ways to learn and to teach is through story.

A golden opportunity presented itself when Mr. Roy Underhill assumed a fellowship position at the Smithsonian.  When the call was issued to attend one of his workshops, I hearkened to that call, eager to study under the tutelage of this master craftsman and teller.

It was through this workshop that my fascination with the potency and prestige of story was rekindled.  One workshop activity particularly resonated with me.  During that activity, Mr. Underhill focused on making the invisible, visible.  He also helped to make the mundane, extraordinary by inviting workshop attendees to tap into the rich reservoirs of the mind, mold non-existent objects with our hands, and transport that intangible thing into reality via the vehicle of imagination.

By the workshop’s end, my understanding of story and the role of the teller had been transformed from merely being an engaging entertainer to a seeker, teacher, communicator and conduit of respectful, thoughtful exchange.

As I sit and rework lesson plans I began constructing at the onset of summer, I resume with a renewed, critical eye trained to see, sense, and more fully understand the stories of Freedom Summer participants that seek to be truthfully told to those whose heads, hearts, and ears yearn to engage with the past in the present.