By Natalie Kennedy (Head of Senior English)

English in a nutshell (thanks for that metaphor Shakespeare!) is all about storytelling. At one of our English Teachers Association conferences author of The Book Thief,  Mark Zusak, stated that “really, what we are made of are stories.”  Stories that are full of tragedy and triumph, ups and downs, birth, rebirth, death, happiness and sadness, destruction and creation, colourful characters and dialogue. In the most simplistic sense, people’s life can be understood as having a beginning, a middle and an end. Everyone here, has an individual story of their life. And as a community here at Northside we have a collective, corporate story about who we are and what our task is, and where we are headed. Beyond these stories though, is a larger story. A metanarrative. The bible is that story and it is a story about who God is, and who we are in relation to Him. This grand narrative of the world and humankind’s place within it invites our students to consider that this ultimate author may have written a part for them to play in His story of redemption.

We use this Christian perspective and storied framework  as the basis for selecting and analysing our novels, films and plays. Within a Christian worldview, the beginning of our Christian story starts at Genesis 1, where “humanity is marked with a uniqueness that sets us apart from all of creation. We are made in the image of God. Humankind, therefore, is the apex of creation.”[1]

When humanity is understood as the “apex” of God’s creation, and that they fit within His larger story, there is an urgency  to understand this overarching story of the world. 

There is also an urgency to understand what makes for a good story.  The Christian story of redemption is a good story. God’s story resonates deeply within us. It is a classic, archetypal story of good triumphing over evil. Wright (The New Testament and the People of God ) explains that, “stories possess power, they actually change how people think, feel and behave, and hence change the way the world actually is.”[2] I’m sure you can think of some really powerful books that have changed the modern world, and not always for better. Jesus the ultimate storyteller clearly recognised the power of story to deliver life-changing truths. In all of the rhythms of rising tension and resolution, there is a repeated sense that the world is fallen, that we are fallen too, and that we need to be reconciled to God, through Jesus. What is the alternative to this story? Do other stories offer a better understanding of our suffering and need for redemption? Do other stories offer a better concept of our value and purpose? God’s story is a great story. I think studying secular texts, as we do in English and Literature does not threaten our story, it deepens our conviction of its supremacy of merit.

In the teaching of texts we encourage students to explore stories in light of philosophical questioning.  As Christian teachers, we share our perspective, which reflects our understanding of story within the larger, biblical story. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, there are two brothers where jealousy and desire for power, sees one of them attempt to kill the other for the dukedom. This is the “spirit of Cain.”   Or in George Orwell’s Animal Farm  a fable about communist Russia. We see the desire of the animals for a perfect world without the tyranny and oppression of man, as an archetypal longing for the Garden of Eden. In every story we read and study in our English program, we can naturally reference back to the ultimate archetypal stories found within the metanarrative of the bible. 

When our students see life as a story they can start to “access the patterns of life.” [3]  Stories reveal “clearly the dignity and brilliance of people. Stories have a way of bringing us back to the things that matter most.” [4] When this value of one’s personal story is analysed in relation to meaning beyond themselves, students can discover a search for a larger story: God’s story.

In a sense, teaching within the English classroom is a type of storytelling. We share the narrative journey with our students in our collective search for meaning and purpose. I hope that in our classrooms we will have great dialogue, about the big ideas, that we will meet interesting characters, and will learn how to be virtuous and victorious through the conflict and suffering that is a part of all stories. 

And ultimately, we hope that our students will see that their story is a part of God’s larger story for mankind - as that really is the best story of all.

1. Allender, D.B. Know Your Story: Shape Your Future: The Tale to be Told: Reading Your Life as God had Written it. Waterbook Press, Colorado. 2005. P.11.

[2] Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. SPCK Publishing, United Kingdom. 2013. P.69.

[3] Strom, M. Lead With Wisdom. Wiley and Sons Australia, Melbourne. 2014. P.135.