English 881/781: Narrative Inquiry — Family Stories Overview

My goal for having you write a Literacy Narrative was to unpack the way the literacy stories of your past have shaped the English teacher you have become. You aren’t in this profession and the CAL Program by accident, your life story led you here.

But literacy is only a small part of who we are. We are just as shaped by our family past. And I mean family in the fullest sense, not just parents, but brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, guardians, and caretakers. And also our own personal families, our lovers, partners, spouses, significant others, and children. Plus, of course, all our friends. The good ones are family, sometimes more important than the family we are tied to by blood.

Your name and your family history carry weight. They matter. Who you are, where you come from, those things are embedded in you.

Just as importantly, if you are going to do Narrative Inquiry or teach narrative writing in your courses, you need to open yourself to the family stories of your students and research participants. There are teachers who dismiss student’s views offhandedly, but the trouble with doing that is a view is often not just the student’s, but their family’s view. Tell a student religion doesn’t matter, and you are telling them that all those times their parents took them to church don’t matter, and, worse, that their parents don’t matter. Or, perhaps, the student wants to think new thoughts to challenge what their parents thought. You can encourage that, but be careful that you don’t take them too far away from the people who love them either. Help your students think for themselves, but help them to also see the value in the past that shaped them.

There are, of course, bad family stories. And we will talk about those when we discuss Healing Stories. I don’t want to dismiss the weight of bad stories in any way. But most people are good. I firmly believe that. Give people the chance, and they will do the right thing most of the time.

So, for now, I want you to think about and write a family story. I’ll let you decide which one. Maybe it will be linked directly to your Literacy Narrative. Or maybe it will be story about a new character. Just pick an interesting family member, and get started. With a good story, you never know where it will lead.