Many youth I know can spin an argument like a flower without a root. That’s right. They can talk pretty, waft attractive opinions around the room and philosophize like their point is so natural, but when you dig to the bottom of their argument, there’s often nothing feeding it. Nothing in which to give it life. It’s an idea just waiting to wilt.
Many schools have adopted the following as a way to teach children to write: Argumentative (most important), Informative (a close second) and way at the end of the line…Narrative. Now at first glance, this makes sense. I hope my kids are required to debate at least once in their education. I hope they learn how to back up their opinions and make sure they have facts on their side. I hope they know how to research a topic well, and how to educate themselves in and out of the classroom.
But can you find the whole story within arguments and encyclopedic-style information? My kids are already experts in the art of arguing. They will bring up every angle possible—gather up all the facts they know—and present their cases to me as if lawyers themselves. Honestly, it’s a close cousin to manipulation which is why we don’t allow them to get their way by arguing.
But when confronted with narratives—real life stories, or even fictional stories, kids learn the importance of roots: right and wrong, perseverance, inspiration (To Kill a Mockingbird and The Indian in the Cupboard to name a few).
When goodness sprouts despite the worlds darkness, there must be a root somewhere. Many of us call it God, which may be why institutions that don’t allow that kind of talk adhere to argument.
Please don’t misunderstand me here–my kids go to a great school and have great teachers, but there is always a hiccup, no matter where the classroom is. When studying the plain old facts, my daughter not only has trouble retaining them, but the purpose of learning gets lost on her. “Why should I care about it?”
Then on library day she finds a book about a Jewish girl who lived through World War II—the hatred and anguish that filled this time. Chloe couldn’t stop telling me about. She deeply felt the plight of this girl.
With narrative, people move beyond the argument to action—the kind born from people who really care (and can remember why they should).
May the world be full of bookworms.