1 April 2011
26 Adar 2, 5771
Yesterday, when I opened the blog that our students on the New Orleans Exploration Week trip are writing (http://gannnola.blogspot.com/2011/03/day-of-stories.html), I saw the title: “A Day of Stories.” Built into their Exploration Week experience of service and learning in New Orleans was the expectation that they describe their experiences. While not every group kept a blog, it became clear that among the most powerful aspects of Exploration Week are the formative moments and memories, the stories that will shape our students lives. As Exploration Week concludes and we approach the Passover holiday, and as I continue to reflect on Race to Nowhere (about which I have written in my previous two messages), I am impressed by the power and importance of stories and storytelling.
I suggested in my last message that one of the ways that Exploration Week serves to counteract the race to nowhere culture is by giving our students opportunities to discover their “somewhere”, a passion, an interest, or a talent that is genuinely meaningful and motivational for them. Another way that these experiences combat the race to nowhere mentality is by turning our students into storytellers rather than racers. Using the metaphor of a race to describe adolescent life connotes a competitive, fast-paced, future-oriented mentality in which students do not live deeply in the present and in which learning, thinking, reflection, and growth give way to doing, rushing, multitasking, and making it through. Changing the metaphor from a race to a story, we can shift the conception of success from being a winning runner to being a master storyteller. As storytellers, our students are expected to slow down, observe the world around them, reflect on what they learn from their experiences, appreciate the importance of people and relationships in their lives, and arrive at deeper understandings of themselves and their world. Storytellers are meaning makers, and meaning making is an extremely important skill for being successful in this world. Whether our students are rebuilding homes in New Orleans, horseback riding in Raleigh, working in homeless shelters in Boston, or learning to create improv comedy, they are experiencing new things and learning to make meaning of their world in new ways. It is no wonder that they return with so many stories that will enrich the fabric of their lives and their identities.
Our rabbis envisioned the Passover Seder as a one-night “Exploration Week”, even as we sit with familiar people at our tables. We fulfill the mitzvah of “v’higadta l’bincha – and you shall tell (the Passover story) to your children” (Exodus 13:8) by turning ourselves into master storytellers. We not only remember the Exodus but also re-experience it. Rather than race through the Hagaddah, we take our time, see the story through new eyes, feel it and relive it in new ways, and, in turn, find new meaning in our past and our present. This is what great storytelling and great education is all about.
Rabbi Marc Baker