The ability to listen

This morning I decided to do an internet search into a subject that I am really interested in, oral history. I am a great follower of the Storycorps site that has a number of fascinating interviews with literally thousands of people from all walks of life, telling their stories.  I read a particularly good post by a great blogger who I follow, Sarah Edson, that mentions how she found out about a great teacher she had once had and the misfortunes that had befallen him, from a Storycorps interview .

In the post Sarah writes:

“In a twist of fate, fifteen years after my high school graduation, while preparing a lesson plan for my own class using the StoryCorps web site, I came across a recorded conversation by Charles Ozug.  In it, he spoke with his son, and shared the story of how a cardiac arrest left him with permanent brain damage.  Unable to create new memories, Mr. Ozug also lost nearly each memory of ever having taught.

Needless to say, I was deeply saddened to learn that this extraordinary educator cannot recall the interactions he had with his students, nor the impact he had on our lives.  He who masterfully offered each project as a clean slate is now deprived of the gift of remembering.  Moved by this realization, I developed an unprecedented appreciation for memory and the power of recorded words.” (my boldening of type)

I thought about the “power” that Sarah talks about and it made me think about something that a teacher said to me a week or so back in relation to the children in her school. “They find it hard to listen for any length of time…. I think it’s because they watch T.V., DVD’s and play video games all the time.”

It made me think about my own experiences in growing up, in the early part of my life, in an “audio-centred” environment. I look back to my early childhood and can recall my brothers and myself sitting at the kitchen table and listening (yes listening) intently at lunchtime comedy shows on the B.B.C.

I found an example of a classic radio programme on, of all things, Youtube. It is a wonderful section of “Hancock’s Half Hour” where Tony is discussing with his flatmates why he has to move, because Hattie, one of his flatmates (played by the wonderful Hattie Jacques) has shopped him to the authorities because he had been claiming benefits as an “agricultural worker” and not the mostly unemployed actor that he was.

Listen to the clip (ignore the photos if you wish) and you will get an idea of the power of words and the fact that, as a young child, I would spend a very good half hour (or longer) enjoying listening to the spoken word. I think that the ability to listen carefully, to enjoy the nuances of language, the power of words and the joy of humour that is purely verbal and not slapstick, comes from the training I received from this background.

Today’s children live in a very different world. My world was very much linked to the ancient “story” tradition that has been very much a part of being human throughout our time on this planet. As soon as we discovered speech we found joy and interest as well as education, in listening to each other and particularly to those who turned out to be gifted in the art of storytelling and speechmaking.

As well as the “Hancock’s Half Hour” segment, I also found a fascinating series of interviews by leading Jewish writers, comedians, politicians, lawyers and physicists in the American Jewish Committee’s Audio Archives I listened to three people’s reminiscences, George Burns, Arthur Miller and Neil Simon. They are absolutely fascinating and a real source of powerful information about their lives and their motivations. I would commend anyone to listen to the recordings and wonder how many young researchers of today would choose something like this as a powerful resource of information and have the stamina and patience to just listen and learn.

At the expense of sounding like an old fuddy duddy and swimming against the modern current of “video rules O.K.” I feel that there is a place and a need for educators to make sure that their students continue to carry on our human tradition of listening and also telling (as Sarah Edson did in using the Storycorps material with her students). This does not come naturally but comes from taking time to actually listen and appreciate what one hears. It is also useful to be able to listen and disagree with what one hears, but at least the listening has taken place and not just the reaction without thought.

Let us keep the story alive and rejoice in how powerful our spoken word can be.

About malbell

I am a retired Teaching and Learning Consultant. Previously I was a Primary school headteacher and deputy headteacher. I enjoy reading, doing MOOCs and learning new things.
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