At Liverpool South Parkway Station I came across a plaque containing the work of St Benedict’s pupils retelling the local myth of Screeching Ginny. Unusually for a myth, the story is less than 50 years old. It speaks to us from the dying days of storytelling experienced at the heart of communities. Technology, material wealth and societal change have brought many positives but always at a cost and locally-shared communal fiction is just one aspect of life which has been transformed. We are now the consumers of other’s (professional authors, playwrights and screenwriters) myths rather than imaginative creators of our own. The problem with the myths generated by professionals for dramas such as Eastenders do not relate to people’s imaginative interpretation of their world, nor are they aimed at a universal audience that includes children (although many children watch soap operas). As a culture has changed, the motivation for storytelling in daily life is now heavily weighted towards protecting our self-image rather than mythologising in order to entertain others or gain fresh understanding beyond the literal. In an empirical age, imagination is frowned upon because it downplays provable, shallow realities.
The one place writing stories is still held up as a worthwhile activity for all is the primary school. However without our own involvement in imaginative storytelling, it is an area of the curriculum that, for some of us, is difficult to teach. Instructions on how to teach writing set out with clarity through schemes of work and textbooks are still hard to turn into effective lessons if we do not tell stories or write regularly ourselves. We teach our own skills better than other people’s because we have insights into progression through small steps, misconceptions and what it takes to succeed.
I have worked with many teachers who model, through their own storytelling and creative writing, concepts such as how to structure story and engage audience. Sometimes this ability appears outside the classroom in original assemblies or plays. Within the classroom, as well as focussing on the process of writing (rather than quick fixes), teachers articulate their love of stories in many ways including: knowing children’s favourite short books off by heart; using rhyme; taking an interest in a child’s reading; valuing the effort of writing and creating stories themselves. I also know teachers who lack the time and confidence to express their own ideas and therefore rely on the Internet and quick fix tips (I confess to once telling a group of year 6 pupils to include “although” in every piece of creative writing- this ranks as the third most stupid thing I’ve said in the classroom). Paradoxically, exhausted and demoralised teachers may spend more time searching for a story to fit a concept, or a quick fix to generate immediate progress, than it would take to create and write their own material and thereby gain confidence in their understanding of the writing process.
Those parents and teachers who value imaginative story as an important aspect of their relationship with children, support the development of young people who are comfortable in their own identies. As adults, parents and teachers cannot be held responsible for the collapse of storytelling, reading and writing in local communities which are under the unrelenting pressure of consumerism and the impact of developments in new technology.
The imaginative sharing of stories such as “Screeching Ginny” maybe for historical plaques in public but behind classroom doors imagination, local mythology and storytelling continue to be valued and loved.