Story Hour with Marilyn Chandler McEntyre | Edvance Christian Schools Association
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Story Hour with Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

Written on November 1st, 2013

Story Hour
During her keynote address at this year’s Edifide convention, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre reflected on our vocation as “stewards of stories.” The term, she said, was a reminder to her that “we are custodians of something that needs to be cared for.”

In tribal cultures throughout history, stories have been used to impart wisdom, shape attitudes about the sacred, and bind communities together with laughter. Today, our culture’s appetite for stories is still strong, even though the way we share them within our households and classrooms has changed. McEntyre pointed out that mass media, particularly in the form of film and television, mediates many of the stories we receive. But a movie can’t offer the “real presence” that a teacher can, as he leads a group of hushed children through the first page of a new novel. In fact, McEntyre views the practice of reading aloud as a sacred and creative act: where inflections, pauses, and intonations have the power to shape a listener’s experience and make it new each time. “A good storyteller won’t just repeat material, she will adapt and revise it in reference to new needs,” observed McEntyre.

McEntyre relishes the opportunities she’s had to share stories of all kinds with students. Part of her work has been an exercise in helping students parse out meaning from the texts they encounter. And she hopes that teachers will continue attuning students to the power of archetypes, so that they can identify the recurring patterns, symbols, and characters that so often predetermine our expectations. But she also highlighted the importance of subverting those expectations. Point students to the presence of archetypes, but avoid the temptation to be reductive, cautioned McEntyre. Always remind students that it’s not that simple.

“Good stories always require something from us,” said McEntyre. Sometimes, they invite us to slow down. They ask us to pause. In a culture addicted to noise and distraction, that kind of engagement may look unattractive to some. “The momentum of the culture we live in is pretty fast,” noted McEntryre, which is why she believes teachers must protect “safe, slow spaces” for students to learn.  Borrowing a word from Herman Melville, McEntyre also encouraged teachers to “subtilize” the minds of students.  “Part of our job as teachers is to resist the deceptive ambition of students to read more and more,” she said. Give students permission to read closely, to spend time with a single passage, a sentence, or a word. Urge them to “go in” before they “go on”.

As students interact with the stories available to them, they also become co-creators of those stories themselves through their interpretations and retellings. Allow them to be “surprised by joy” during that work, said McEntyre. Teach them to take delight in new phrases and to enjoy the moment.  As readers, encourage them to laugh and to love what’s been given to them. As writers, teach them to love their readers.

For McEntyre, the role of a story has little to do with grades, test scores, or an ever expanding list of “books read.” Her hopes are higher. What she really wants is to see students “claim their inheritance” and “take stock of the wealth they have received.”  The better they are at doing that, the better they will be at participating in “the long conversation a culture has with itself.”