For quite some years now, the term “narrative” has been common in political circles. It generally has a negative connotation as it’s used to reference a story line — an often largely fictional one — advanced by some ideologically driven entity for political gain.
This is why I saw a red flag Friday when, while writing an article on how leftist indoctrination permeates even conservative states’ schools, I read a line about what a common modern pedagogy dictates was necessary to be a “culturally responsive educator” (read: an educator responsible for cultural revolution). Two prerequisites for it, related the Federalist, are “the rejection of colorblindness and replacing instruction about facts with narrative stories.”
Now, the narrative-story technique can be very powerful and is often used in journalism. For example, a writer may open a piece with a tale about some person whose experiences relate to the article’s topic. A variation on this is to detail and portray sympathetically an individual whose plight, or what you characterize as such, serves as an anecdote in support of a policy the author is advocating, either explicitly or implicitly.
I don’t tend toward this technique myself. Instinctively I’ve always been a straightforward person; if I believe something is true and should be embraced, my default is to say so and explain logically why (I’m very male, in other words!). Moreover, I’d certainly agree with the paraphrase of history scholar Henry Thomas Buckle that goes, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” Tales are mainly about people and events.
This said, I have on occasion used the narrative-story method, and it can be a legitimate tool. After all, as I may lament as I inform people I’m an alien, the humans aren’t Mr. Spocks — Vulcans operating entirely on logic. They’re emotional beings, which is why the most effective arguments incorporate not just logos and ethos, but also pathos, an appeal to emotion. It’s as when wooing a woman: We speak of capturing her heart, not her head.
Yet the woman is blessed if the man winning her heart is a knight in shining armor, not a charming devil, and she may not well be able to tell the difference because her passions have been engaged; she’s almost assuredly not analyzing matters logically. Related to this, the narrative-story technique is only legitimate in one situation: When harnessing the emotions in service to that knight in shining armor of ideas — Truth.
Tragically, however, the method is perhaps more often used to seduce people into accepting that devil of ideas called a lie. It’s a favored trick of demagogues because, since lies (theirs included) can’t be backed up with reason, it’s virtually the only arrow in their quiver. But, my, is this anti-Cupid ever good at hitting the heart.
For example, ask the average person — and in particular, most any liberal — how many unarmed black suspects are killed by police yearly. He virtually always won’t know, but will also often think he has a pretty good idea: Hundreds and perhaps thousands.
The real number is approximately 12 to 23, depending on the year.
Of course, the more naive could ask why people are so deluded on this matter. The media report on the police shootings of blacks incessantly, and any honest examination of the topic would have to put that perspective-lending statistic front and center.
It’s the result of deceivers “replacing instruction about facts with narrative stories.” The facts here reveal that there is no story. So the media simply withhold the facts and lean on the narrative, which through repetition makes people believe the facts are what they aren’t. Thus do we ever hear about the latest police shooting of a black suspect while the more common killing of white suspects is ignored.
Another term for a narrative-story is “anecdote,” and anecdotes are by definition anecdotal. And it is precisely because they can be true yet deceptive, as they may be unrepresentative of general phenomena, that they’re used by propagandists to manipulate public opinion.
This is why a resolution to favor narratives over facts in education should enrage us. Implicit in this is the admission that the facts would refute the narrative, and this is why leftist educators hate them: Facts are pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of reality. And reality is demagogues’ mortal enemy.
What’s so tragic here is that while children are easily manipulated with lies, they’re also very receptive to Truth because they don’t yet have ingrained political biases that cause them to run information through an ideological filter. Facts really can hit home with them.
Any teacher who’d subordinate facts to narratives should immediately be ousted from education, no further questions asked. For the person is at best fatally corrupted, at worst a conscious corruptor and, either way, will be a child abuser in the classroom.