Mining the News

I don’t want to think about it.  But just about every time someone talks to me this time of year, the question arises: “When does school start up again?”

So I am thinking about it: thinking about what I want to say this year, and more importantly, what I want my students to say.

I’ve also been reading voraciously, trying to make the most of my Times subscription before it runs out.  And buried in a pile of liberal complaints, I found the following jewel:

The stories our leaders tell us matter, probably almost as much as the stories our parents tell us as children, because they orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be; to the worldviews they hold and to the values they hold sacred. Our brains evolved to “expect” stories with a particular structure, with protagonists and villains, a hill to be climbed or a battle to be fought. Our species existed for more than 100,000 years before the earliest signs of literacy, and another 5,000 years would pass before the majority of humans would know how to read and write.

Stories were the primary way our ancestors transmitted knowledge and values. Today we seek movies, novels and “news stories” that put the events of the day in a form that our brains evolved to find compelling and memorable. Children crave bedtime stories; the holy books of the three great monotheistic religions are written in parables; and as research in cognitive science has shown, lawyers whose closing arguments tell a story win jury trials against their legal adversaries who just lay out “the facts of the case.”

I think this might be my first-day-of-school discussion.  I know I’ll hear the dreaded question eventually, so it makes sense to jump right on the answer.