Learning Through Story

This evening I had the pleasure of seeing the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama, Ruined. Set in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s not for the faint of heart as its central characters are women who have faced and survive all kinds of horrors. This run is currently in its last week at the Intiman Theatre and features most of the original Off-Broadway cast. For some reason, it skipped a transfer to Broadway, went straight to London, is here in Seattle for 4 more days, will run in LA next, and the producers are hoping to take it to Johannesburg after that.

I have read headlines and pieces about many of the atrocities taking place in that part of the world, however having it dramatized and seeing it as art rather than journalism, for some reason, resonated more with me. The power of stories, especially those that you haven’t read/seen before can be powerful teaching tools. I learned a lot (and want to learn even more).

I was also fortunate to see the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning Drama, Next To Normal last year in New York and was moved to tears from the middle of act 1 to the end of the play. How many rock musicals (about someone suffering from severe mental health issues) can claim that.

In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath mention Story as one of the most powerful ways to make an idea stick. They say, “Stories drive action through simulation (what to do) and inspiration (the motivation to do it.).

If you are a woman in an African country going through a civil war, what would you do and why? What do we do to survive? Do we speak out or remain silent living in fear?

While this story is not going to be part of my second grade curriculum, it’s an important story and a difficult one. It’s a reminder that at every age, there are sometimes difficult stories to tell, but in order for learning to occur, these stories need to be told. And if the story has done its job, the observer begins to ask questions. When you ask questions, you start to learn something new. If we can get our children to ask questions and keep asking them, we will have contributed to their abilities to become life long learners.

  • Boy Soldiers plucked from villages
  • Deforestation
  • Mining for metals in cell phones
  • Sexual violence
  • Violence

These were just some of the background topics. Do these themes exist in classic literature? Of course they do. Even this play was inspired by Inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage. But why does this story feel so fresh? Perhaps because it’s happening now.

There’s a hospital mentioned in the play that treats and surgically repairs women that have been “ruined” – Click here to learn more.


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