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Gregoris Kalai Headshot

How Storytelling Can Transform Education

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The art of storytelling is underrated now more than ever. A story, in its purest form, is possibly the most human way to communicate. Yet with the advent of technological and scientific advances, this forgotten art has taken a backseat to other, more data-driven, ways of communication.

A place where this intersection (or lack thereof) is apparent is universities. As a member of one, I have come to appreciate the art and intricacy of a good story, merely because I seldom seem to hear one.

Most professors that I have interacted with are horrible storytellers. They may be experts in their fields and be able to retain information and theories at a high level, but their way of presenting their knowledge is one-sided and often boring.

What most professors fail to realize is that every time they stand in front of an auditorium and begin to lecture, they are competing for our attention with the infinite number of tabs we have open on our browsers. Yes, that means cute cats, memes and Facebook. A quick glance from the back of any lecture hall would confirm that.

So, if professors cannot express themselves in a way that is not memorable enough for us to remember the content after the exam, then what is the point of listening?

Looking deeper, it is easy to assign blame on professors -- they are an easy target. Their collective inability to portray information in a memorable way is a symptom of a much bigger issue.

Our educational system puts a premium on intellectual reasoning at the expense of remarkability. The irony is that, as humans, we are wired to remember the remarkable, not the mundane.

Learning then becomes increasingly a matter of memorizing concepts, dates, and data. And because the professional world is comprised mostly of university graduates, we now have a culture that deems theoretical models more valuable than ones that tell stories.

This, for the lack of a better word, sucks. It is the symbiosis of data and emotion that makes for an effective case for any argument.

One instance of a lecture that I am unlikely to ever forget was when a politics professor (William Quandt) told my class a story of his time advising Jimmy Carter during the Camp David Accords. He spoke about the magnetism of Anwar Sadat and the role that Carter played in the negotiating room. By the time he finished the story, most students were hungry for more, a rare instance in lecture halls.

The facts about Camp David are easy to find and understand, but the emotions that come from hearing them in the form of a story is remarkable in a way that facts can never be.

I am not suggesting that every lecture be turned into story-time. Instead, rather than looking at classes as a one-sided microphone where professors are the center, we ought to explore ways to make them more memorable and retainable. Both of which, coincidentally, could be intertwined in a good story.

If we as humans are predisposed to tell and be receptive to good stories, then why has our educational system shunned their existence?

Thoughts, opinions, and solutions are welcome.