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Opinion: Coronavirus pandemic stories matter
02012018 LETTER

Stories are typically told around campfires, at family gatherings, on church lawns and front porches, but now during this pandemic, they are almost exclusively told behind the luxuries of screens, whether laptops or smart devices, whether in song, dance, image, words — all of these counts as stories. 

They are sometimes anonymous and nearly always presented with emotion. These pandemic stories are fragile yet powerful. 

It can be assumed that the intent of authors is to inform and persuade; it must also be assumed that whether conscious or not, the author is positioning others. 

Within this pandemic and beyond, stories abound and echo off one another. The stories of schooling are being reshaped and told in a new era.  What will these stories do to the metanarrative on teaching and learning.

We manage our lives through storytelling.

Admiral Jim Stockdale, a United States Navy vice admiral during the Vietnam War became a prisoner of war for seven years and subsequently was awarded the Medal of Honor. Admiral Stockdale’s experiences and his understanding of the stories of prisoners of war gave meaning to what he deemed “the most defining event of his life.”  He claimed that it made him a better, stronger person. 

Like Americans now wondering if we can get out of COVID-19, he had to survive and only did so by accepting this “very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”  Author Jim Collins coined this as The Stockdale Paradox.

Professor of sociology Norman Denzin claimed that “if an author thinks something existed and believes in its existence, its effects are real. Since all … (telling) is fictional, made up of things that could happen or did happen, it is necessary to do away with the distinction between fact and fiction.”  

Our development is less about truth or nontruth and instead lies in how we handle the stories.  Only time will tell how we redefine brick-and-mortar schools, and long from now, we will have to evaluate and own our current actions.

We listen to each other’s pandemic stories and offer ours in exchange, but I argue that until we are able to recognize the unreliable narrator of our own stories can we begin to understand the layers of others’ stories.  

What I am suggesting is that we pivot our position and take on the perspective of others. Consider other points of view in order to evaluate and expand our worldview of teaching and learning. Surely there are more answers to schooling than only those offered through technological devices.  

Schooling stories are limited to political positions, access to technology, educational pathways to the future. Unless we can “walk a mile in (another’s) shoes” our stories will remain incomplete.

Maybe the easiest, simplest phrase to capture the intent of this letter is listen and be kind.

Together apart.

Shane Rayburn


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