The Value of Recounting Narratives
Memorable Learning Experiences in the Lives of Inner-City Students and Teachers
This article examines the narratives of more than fifty students and teachers who live and work in inner-city areas of the U.S. and South Africa. The purpose of this investigation was to consider some striking similarities in the themes that emerged from the narratives of "most memorable learning experiences" shared by these inner-city learners and their implications for policy. In this article, attention is given not only to the value of these narratives to the individuals who have shared them, but also to the value of sharing these narratives with "Others" (i.e., policy makers, administrators, and curriculum developers) who are engaged in dialogues about the reform of education for inner-city populations here in the U.S. and in South Africa. The U.S. and South Africa are two countries with similarities that make them well-suited for this investigation. Structurally, the U.S. and South Africa are both seeking ways to more effectively educate large numbers of inner-city students who are culturally and linguistically different from the "mainstream" and from the students for whom the majority of instructional materials and school expectations are tailored. With an end to legal segregation in the U.S. and apartheid in South Africa, policy makers in both countries are making critical decisions concerning the reconstruction of education systems for students whom they know very little about. A disjunction exists between the lives of the students and the policy environment that seeks to design and control the educational experiences of inner-city youth. Through narratives, this article helps the reader to appreciate this disjunction and exposes a sharp contrast between the world in which the inner-city youth lives and the world implied by the policies and practices that are proposed. I propose that narratives of memorable learning experiences collected from students and teachers who live and work in inner-city areas can provide insight concerning "what counts" as learning and what aspects of life and school experiences have most shaped their lives as learners. This article demonstrates two important functions of narrative: it demonstrates how students and teachers who live and work in inner-city areas make sense of their experiences through narrative, and how (by listening to the voices of inner-city students and teachers) others can gain a data base from which to craft expanded visions of the possibilities for the change and restructuring of schools. (Content analyses of oral and written narrative data)
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