Monday, March 28, 2016

I’m a 'storyteller' – yawn!

I’m increasingly introduced, or sharing a platform with people, who claim they’re a ‘storyteller’. I’m just perplexed, as I have no idea what this means. I know lots of people who can tell a damn good story down the pub and can hold a group entranced, but they’d never have the cheek to call themselves ‘storytellers’. When I try to tease out what their storytelling actually means, I find that it’s usually a synonym for being an underemployed extrovert.
Stories about what?
For one, it simply begs the question, ‘Stories about what?’ Now that you’ve told me you’re some sort of Homer, what have you got to say? I’ve known lots of oddballs who tell great stories but I wouldn’t trust them to hold a stick for two minutes, never mind regard their stories as sage advice. This is to confuse substance with form. Ever been collared by a ‘storyteller’ and felt internally as if you were going to expire with boredom?
Cock and bullshit
I’ve seen umpteen ‘futurists’ cull stories from the web and string them together to form story-based talks. It’s often cock and bullshit. Even worse, are those who present theories based on a flimsy list of words starting with the letter “C”, as if the real world (as opposed to their limited vocabulary) is really that alliterative. The word ‘creativity’ will inevitably appear, that most hollow of concepts, but so will collaboration, critical thinking, community, character, connectedness….
Plural of story is not data
Now let me turn to another ‘storytelling school of thought’. In education and training, there’s plenty who profess, as if it were a Copernican revelation, that ‘it’s all about storytelling’. Don’t give me THAT story. We have, since Socrates and Plato, been warned about the dangers of storytelling. Its tendency to tell tall tales, romanticise, exaggerate, over-structure into a beginning, middle and a happy end, come to unwarranted conclusions and be used as a form of fictional propaganda. Me – when I really want to learn something - I like straight stuff.  I like good research, straight to the point, concise and evidenced writing. Stories can get in the way. The ‘storytellers’ often peddle tales without substance, evidence or data. The plural of story is not data.
Storytelling s marketing
I’m OK with stories, in their place, but they’re not ‘everything’. They may even encourage the sort of long-form lecturing that plagues education and training. Sure, tell a narrative or story if that’s helpful, but the mantra, that good teaching is ALL about storytelling, is a caricature of the many methods one has to employ to teach – and learn. Stories that have gone wrong, as they were untrue and dangerous include; learning styles, L/R brain theory, Dales cone, whole word teaching, NLP, Myers Briggs, Maslow, Kirkpatrick and so on. Many of these are ‘stories’ have some triangle or concept grid, that is easy to tell and sell. The storytellers recruit ‘practitioners’ and through the storytelling that is marketing, they become Ponzi schemes. The same old stories, told again and again and again….

To take the telling of tales seriously, and some have, like Roger Schank, who, usefully in my view, used the word ‘script’, as opposed to story, you’d want to look at the way we learn in terms of short contextualised narratives. That’s fine, but few of the so-called self-styled, storytellers have this in mind. Indeed, as we all know, we have a tendency to get locked into those scripts and narratives, our stock of anecdotes, out ‘stories’. This often misses the nuances of teaching and learning. Learning is far too complex a business to be reduced to the idea of ‘stories’. And before you accuse me of just having told a ‘story’ – it’s not, it’s a ‘rant’ – there’s a difference.

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