User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Narratives in the 21st Century: Narratives in Search of Contexts

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As someone trained in counseling, the therapeutic modality that resonated most deeply with me was Narrative Therapy.  Simple stated, narrative therapy is about telling one’s story and having witnesses that story. (For more about Narrative Therapy, see

People want to tell their stories AND want witnesses to theses stories. Evidence of this is seen in today’s world through the amazing popularity and growth of status posts via Twitter and Facebook, and through all of those personal movies being uploaded to Youtube at an unbelievable pace.

So when I saw the  recent posts of by John Nagel and Walter McKenzie about narratives, I began thinking about what they mean in this post-modern/21st century and its implications within education.

John Hagel, in The Pull of Narrative – In Search of Persistent Context, discusses narratives and their place in this post-modern era.  Key points he mentions are:

In our digital world, content providers progressively chunk up their offerings to provide more choice and easier access. . . . As this occurs, value moves from content to context.  In the old days, context came in various forms.  It came in the package that delivered the content (you often could judge a book by its cover) or, even more broadly, it came from the stable surroundings that produced the content. . . .  As our world fragments and changes ever more rapidly, we find that context cannot be taken for granted – it must be defined.

We have already seen a growing emphasis on experience as an important element of context. Stories have become increasingly important to provide even broader context.  We are now on the cusp of a revival of narrative as an even more valuable context

The role that narratives play:

  • Narratives provide stability and continuity in our lives. Narratives help to orient us.
  • Narratives have the potential to profoundly shape the future.
  • Narratives also help participants construct meaning, purpose and identity for themselves.
  • Narratives help to ignite and nurture passion within us.

We desperately need new narratives that will provide alternatives to the older, more confining narratives.  These new narratives must embrace the fragmentation and change that give us more choice and options while helping to orient us and calling us to more fully realize the potential that we all have.

What we need are narratives of explorers, rather than narratives of true believers.  The narratives of explorers emphasize the opportunity to learn and grow by constantly framing new questions and embarking on quests to gain new insight through action. They focus on the possibilities to be discovered rather than the certainties to be recovered.

The tools required to take on this task are becoming more and more powerful and ubiquitous.  Digital technology provides all of us the ability to define and communicate narratives in rich and textured ways.

McKenzie also discusses the need for contexts for information (like narratives) and how they can lead to insight and innovation.

Referred to as the Information Age, the first ten years of this new century are characterized first and foremost by an information explosion. At the outset, the challenge seemed to be to simply be able to manage the data with which we are inundated. But as the tools to manage data have become more and more user friendly, the next challenge is to find contexts for the pertinent information we encounter…context provided by the experience and expertise we bring to understanding information. When we have meaningful understanding of information, insight is created…the kind of insight that identifies opportunities for innovation.

Not only do people want to tell their story – they want their stories embedded into a place and time. Thus, this time in history can be subtitled as, Narratives in Search of Contexts. As such, technologies are being developed to provide context to stories.

As this is an education blog, the implications and support for constructivist and personalized education become even more evident within this discussion of narratives. Educators and parents should gain an understanding of the need for personal narratives as a source of personal understanding of self, environment and community, and the world-at-large.  They need to provide the guidance for young people to create their own narratives safely and respectfully within post-modern contexts. It is also important to take this opportunity, as Hagel states, to assist the new generation in becoming explorers, in developing their narratives (and related contexts) for framing new questions and embarking on quests to gain new insight through action.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 1, 2011 at 2:20 am

One Response

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  1. Thanks, Jackie! I see a lot of application with digital storytelling! I’m going to be starting my graduate program in school counseling in the fall, so I think this is a great resource for me!

    Take care,


    June 3, 2011 at 7:02 pm

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