Harste as Storyteller

The James Curtin Kid Watching Language Story.

 James Curtin taught School Administration at the University of Minnesota when I was a doctoral student.  One of the stories he told, that I loved, was that one day he was sitting in his office when his daughter, age 5, and a friend were playing outside.  He had his office window open to get some fresh air.  The two children began talking about what their fathers did.  The friend said that her father was a doctor.  His daughter responded, “My Dad is a doctor too, but he’s not the kind of doctor that helps people.”


The Arthur Combs Curriculum  Language Story.

Arthur Combs was a Professor in Curriculum Studies.  At a lecture I attended he told this story.  He said he was hired to create a demonstration school for the university where he worked.  They gave him everything he wanted.  He could hire the teachers he wanted. He could design the building the way he wanted.  He and the teachers had total control of the curriculum including what textbooks, if any, they wanted to use.  They could buy tables instead of desks, if that was what they wanted.  He and the teachers had free choice in terms of decorating the classrooms, and the list when on and on.  He ended by saying, “Everything was perfect and then the parents send us the wrong damn kids!”



Frankie Jones Introduces Pat Shannon

Frankie Jones was a Curriculum Developer for the Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia. At the Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teacher of English one year she was asked to introduce Patrick Shannon, an out-spoken educator who was known to publicly criticize practices he thought were harmful to children. To make Pat’s introduction she told this story. She said that she and her husband had planned a dinner party. The day of the party she sat her kid down and said that she was going to give him a lot of attention today but tonight she wanted him to really behave when the company arrived. “I want you to play quietly, come to dinner and not throw a fit about anything. Eat what you like, leave the rest, just so quietly. This evening is for the adults. Do you understand?” He assured her he did. Everything went fine, she said. The company came. They had wine and hors d’oeuves. They visited a bit more and then she called them to take their seats at the table. Her son came quietly and she put him in his highchair. She gave him a little of everything she was serving. When serving him mash potatoes, however, he immediately grabbed his fork and shoved in a big bite. It was then that he discovered that the mash potatoes were way too hot. With his mouth closed he looked around wildly and then, spraying everyone in sight, spit out the mash potatoes. He looked at his mother and then said, “Oh, I suppose you would have swallowed that!!” Frankie then went on to talk about her son remaindered her of Pat Shannon.


The Anne Lomott Language Story about Keys.

 Anne Lomott wrote a wonderful little book  on writing called Bird by Bird. In the book she tells this story.  She said that one summer she decided to go to their cabin to try to get the time she needed to write.  She took her daughter, age 4, with her.  One day as she was working in her office with the window open she heard her daughter playing with a ring of plastic keys that in a prior lifetime she had been given to help with teething.  She kept rattling the key and swearing as she fiddled with the front door.  Anne stuck her head out the window and said to her daughter, “Hey, what are you doing?  You know we don’t use that kind of language in our house.”  “I know,” her exasperated daughter replied, “but Mom, the problem is these F***ing keys!!”


Reference:  Lamott, A. (1995). Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life. Anchor Press.