Have you heard of StoryCorps? Because, if not, get excited for a pretty unique classroom idea. StoryCorps is a US non-profit organization with a self-proclaimed mission to...
"provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations."
or, more simply stated, to
"help create an archive of the wisdom of humanity."
StoryCorps goes about this archiving humanity's wisdom business using interviews and oral histories. In the last 12 years, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews with around 90,000 participants in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and several American territories. Each interview is recorded on a free CD to share and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The interviews are also often broadcasted on NPR's Morning Edition and can be browsed or searched on the StoryCorps site.
The founder of StoryCorps is David Isay, who just recently won the TED prize, believes firmly in the importance of interviews as a means of preserving and archiving records of our humanity. He also very strongly holds that the act of listening to another human being is an act of great kindness and humanity in the service of authentic communication in an age in which real human interaction is eroding.
In an effort to revive this pure and authentic interaction and to encourage the preservation of our oral histories, Isay and StoryCorps have created a free interview app that facilitates and records a meaningful interview between you and an individual of your choosing.
The app not only provides you with engaging and thought-provoking questions, but it also automatically records, stores, and uploads your interview to the StoryCorps database. Isay calls his interviews the anti-reality television, connecting people from all walks of life through shared experiences, common emotions, and real conversation. The app interviews tend to last around 40-45 minutes, encouraging engaged listening, deep thought, and authentic human connection. Isay views his app as the antidote to the 140-character limits placed on modern communication, saying that longer conversations encourage people to go deeper and connect more profoundly with one another.
The idea of using interviews to explore and access common threads and struggles in the human experience is also explored by Humans of New York, whose interviews and photographs have been inspirational to a huge variety of followers. I think that part of why StoryCorps interviews along with Humans of New York publications have such a devoted following has to do with the craving we all have for real human connection and the ability to share our experiences with one another. I agree with Isay that, in today's age of emojis, tweets, and minimalist texts, extended, vulnerable conversation is a rarity. The average high school student may very well feel extremely unfamiliar or uncomfortable with extended personal conversation, which is what makes this an awesome classroom activity.
StoryCorps interviews strike me as interesting resources to bring into the classroom in order to expand students' horizons and encourage them to consider people in situations, places, and lives different from their own. I think that assigning students to interview either an individual with whom they are extremely close or perhaps even someone they don't know very well at all has the potential to push them to explore meaningful conversation, deep thought, and the purpose of interaction with those around us. Exploring sites like Humans of New York or StoryCorps' interview archives can help students investigate and think critically about the importance of pursuing human connection, finding lives and identities that challenge or differ from their own, and learning to listen to someone else's story.
Students in our classrooms are increasingly diverse, coming from all different socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic, political, and religious backgrounds. Learning to listen to and understand those who are different from ourselves is an increasingly critical skill for modern high schoolers. Asking students to engage in an in-depth conversation with someone to uncover unexpected or unique information is a way of asking them to analyze their surroundings and pay attention to the world in which they live. This task prompts them to look outside themselves and their own lives to learn something new and different. I also believe that the process of asking meaningful questions, listening carefully, and recording an individual's thoughtful response to those questions is a very literary undertaking. Communication, analysis, and synthesis of differing perspectives are all critical components of advanced reading and writing skills. In these regards, I see the StoryCorps app as a great resource for teaching students to ask good questions, think critically, and search for answers outside of themselves.