Using Narratives to Communicate Values
Historically, all cultures, regardless of whether they had an oral or written tradition, used stories to communicate their core values from one generation to the next. Indeed, that intergenerational transmission of values has always been the most important work of a civilization.
There are a number of reasons why stories are so effective in communicating values.
Stories are interactive.
No doubt these are the reasons why the world's greatest moral teachers have always used stories to teach eternal principles and truths.
- They teach by attraction rather than compulsion
- They invite rather than impose
- They capture the imagination and touch the heart
The Cornerstone Values Curriculum recognizes the importance of stories in values, or character education, and places their use at the heart of its teaching strategies.
There are three ways stories can be used.
A series of Cornerstone Values Readers, a resource using the third method, will be published, as funds become available. This series will provide busy teachers with both a resource and a model.
- Read and left without comment or discussion to do their own work
- Read until a values issue is raised. At which point the values issue is explored through discussion
- Read through to the end and followed by a set of discussion questions
From The Walnut Tree is the text of a Cornerstone Values Reader, which highlights the values of obedience and honesty.
While respecting that it is copyright please use it with your class or as a model to develop your own resources. Your comments would be appreciated.
FROM THE WALNUT TREE Jack and his younger brother Matthew had built a two-storied tree hut in the old walnut tree at the bottom of the garden. It was a wonderful place, hidden high in the thick branches and overlooking the neighbouring golf course.
by John Heenan
They had used all sorts of building materials. Sheets of iron, old sacking, a large packing case, and a piece of clear plastic that was once the end of their father's hydroponic gardening shed. Mother had found them a set of faded curtains and a damaged Venetian blind that she had stored in the garage after redecorating the spare bedroom. She suggested that they might like them for the window.
The boys'parents were helpful and encouraging with their building project. However, they had one rule and they expected it to be obeyed.
Jack and Matthew could use any of their father's tools and all the nails they wanted, but every tool and the box of nails had to be returned to the garage workbench at the end of each day.
Usually, the boys were careful to obey but one night they forgot the nails. They were left outside for two nights!
On the first night it rained and when Jack discovered the nails two days later many had started to rust.
Father was not very pleased and stopped the boys from building for two whole days.
When the hut was finished Jack and Matthew held an opening ceremony. Mum, Dad and Sister Moira were invited as special guests.
The family climbed the four-meter rope ladder that Dad had made and pulled it up behind them. Mum and Moira squashed inside the bottom story with the boys while Dad sat outside on a branch.
Everyone enjoyed the Coke and crisps that the boys had bought with their pocket money and the cream cake that mother had carefully carried up the rope ladder.
The boys, and often Moira, played for hours in the tree hut. Sometimes they imagined that it was a pirate ship. At other times it was a jumbo jet, a rocket on its way to Mars or a medieval castle. Moira liked it best when it was a rescue helicopter on its way to some emergency.
One summer's afternoon, Jack and Matthew sprawled lazily in the upper storey and gazed across the golf course. They watched a group of five golfers play their way towards the twelfth hole, not far from their walnut tree.
Four balls landed cleanly on the manicured green. The fifth went way beyond and came to rest in a little hollow behind a tuft of rank grass.
From where the boys sat the white surface of the little ball glistened in a shaft of sunlight.
The golfers searched everywhere. They bent the taller grass with their clubs and scoured the boundary fence.
The ball's owner, an elderly man in a tartan cap, kept returning to the area where it lay hidden from his sight.
Jack and Matthew still as tuataras *. They scarcely breathed!
Soon the golfers gave up looking. The elderly player in the tartan cap took a new ball from his golf bag and played the twelfth.
When the golfers were out of sight Jack and Matthew scrambled down the tree and grabbed the golf ball.
They were so excited as they rushed into the house to tell their parents.
"Look what we've found!" they yelled from the back porch.
And, as they burst into the kitchen, "A brand new golf ball!"
"Where did you find it?" asked Moira.
"By the tree hut " replied Jack.
"How do you know that it was lost?" quizzed Father.
"Because we saw some golfers looking for it," replied Matthew.
"Then you know what to do with it," said Mother and Father almost in one voice.
Jack and Matthew's excitement evaporated as they walked towards the golfers' clubhouse.
* Tuatara ( say too- ah- tah-rah ) an ancient reptile that lives on some islands off the coast of New Zealand.
- Describe the tree house as you imagine it to be.
- What would you enjoy about living in Jack and Matthew's family?
- After the boys had left the box of nails outside what might their father have said to them?
- When the boys saw the golfer lose the ball, what could they have done?
- What would have happened if they had done each of these?
- What is meant by sitting as still as a tuatara?
- Were Jack and Matthew dishonest when they said that they had found a golf ball?
- What do people mean when they talk about a "half truth?"
- What did the boys' parents mean when they said, "Then you know what to do with it?"
- Why was it important that the parents made the boys return the golf ball?
- How did Jack and Matthew show respect for their parents?
- In what other ways do children respect the authority of their parents?
- What events in the story have consequences?
- What did you learn from this story?
Published with permission of John Heenan,
The New Zealand Foundation for Values Education Inc.