Memories of Awe Episode 29

Liz had begun to realize the power of stories. They seemed to stay with her longer than other forms of information. She knew from her classes that cultural identities were often shaped by stories. She wondered why more faculty didn’t use stories to anchor key concepts in students’ memories. She was looking forward to today’s interview because Professor McKown had promised to continue the story of It’s Time.

LJ: I can’t wait to hear the second half of your It’s Time story.

KMcK:  This one involves a different student, Derec. I got to know Derec very well during his freshman year. He was from Chicago. I first met him when he sent me a note that his best friends had been killed in a gun fight. He was understandably upset.

Derec was one of those students who just attracted trouble. He was constantly getting involved in situations that he should have stayed away from. We had long talks about this, but nothing seemed to sink in until Derec’s cousin was also killed. Derec found out that they wanted him as well. Obviously, he couldn’t go home.

LJ: This sounds like a movie. Are you telling me that Derec learned It’s Time to avoid trouble?

KMcK:  I wish that were so. Derec’s troubles continued.

Derec had a kind heart, and that’s what led to many of his troubles. One morning at 6:00 AM he came to my office covered in blood. He had saved a fellow student who had broken out a window and was trying to commit suicide by jumping. Obviously Derec was very disturbed.

Derec’s grades weren’t very good, and he was suspended from the University. I lost track of Derec after that.

LJBut what does that have to do with It’s Time?

KMcK:  Let me tell you the rest of the story. Here’s an email I got from Derec.

“Since I left the University, I have enrolled at another college, and I am majoring in history education. I have gotten my GPA up from below a 1.0 to a 2.7. I am more motivated to do my schoolwork, especially since I have a family. Everything has gotten better at home, especially since I have stayed away from people who tended to get me to do things I probably shouldn’t have been doing. My future plans include joining the Army as a pilot and, although my math scores in college were extremely low, I had an exceptionally good score on my flying test which makes it possible for me to achieve my goal.

Like I said, I have also gotten engaged and have two beautiful children now and partially because of them my path is more narrow and my goals and what I need to do to achieve them are much more clear to me. I remember the lecture you had in your class; I believe where you had talked about a boy named Jim who had been `suspended and when he came back had told you ‘it’s time’. I have definitely felt that revelation, and it took until fairly recently for me to realize it.”

That email was seven years after he had my class. I have former students who had my classes over 50 years ago, and they can still remember the stories. Although they may struggle remembering the content, they recall the basic principles through the stories.

LJ: I wonder why more faculty don’t reduce key concepts to stories.

KMcK:  I think it’s because they think story telling is beneath them as scholars. You must realize that universities are not in the business of educating students. I’ll leave that there for you to ponder.

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“Storytelling is the oldest form of education.” – Terry Tempest Williams (author, conservation activist)

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