Monday, January 26, 2015

The Importance of Orature

Back in December, I read this article from Latino Rebels, in which Charlie Vázquez mourns the loss of family stories that have been passed down orally for years.  As his older relatives have passed on, he laments, their stories have died with them, inspiring him to preserve his "family folklore" by writing it down.  While I understand Vázquez' decision to record these oral tales and histories in print, this article makes me wonder: Why aren't we doing more to keep the practice of oral storytelling alive?

I love books.  You love books.  We understand that reading can be a beautiful, edifying experience and that the written word holds immense power.  However, by privileging print in our culture, we run the risk of marginalizing and losing the art of oral storytelling, another powerful form of sharing ideas.  Yes, writing down orature and oral history is probably prudent in parts of the world where print dominates, but I believe that we should continue telling those stories aloud as long as we can.

Promoting oral storytelling has several benefits.  First, it keeps cultures and knowledge alive.  Second, valuing this form of communication values the people who practice it.

Additionally, providing children with lots of chances to hear and tell diverse stories at school and at home can:

Don't know where to begin?  Teachers, you can invite parents or professional storytellers to visit schools, or give students opportunities to share tales (historical, folkloric, or imaginary) aloud.  Parents, check out your local library for storytelling events, or head to YouTube -- there are tons of great storytelling videos online (like this one).

(Personal testimony time: I have to confess that I didn't fully recognize the value of orature when I was teaching, but when I did tell stories to my kids sans picture book and took them to see storytellers at a local theater, they loooooooved it.)

Have you experienced oral storytelling or welcomed it into your classroom?  Tell me about it!

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