The Power of the Human Story
by Gay Atmajian
“A real human being puts a personal face on history,” posits Echoes & Reflections presenter Sherry Bard.
In a professional development opportunity for English Language Arts and History/Social Studies teachers hosted by Tulare County Office of Education, over 40 county educators learn how “Bringing in an eye-witness brings an unmatched opportunity!” We know this to be true. The minute a historical concept, idea or entity takes on a human face and voice, we experience history in a very personal way.
Echoesandreflections.org is a true gold mine of opportunity:
- 65 real testimonies available
- professionally filmed eyewitness, primary source accounts
“We want to teach the Holocaust from the point of the individual,” Bard proffers. “We want to know the stories. When you teach history and talk about the stories. Students say, ‘Wait, we remember stories!’”
Bard’s position is buttressed by Nicole Krueger’s ISTE article 3 Strategies for Using Empathy as an Antidote for Cyberbullying. Krueger writes:
"Storytelling offers a powerful entry point for engaging students’ empathy by actually changing the way their brains work. Neuroeconomics pioneer Paul Zak, who studied how people respond to stories, found that even simple narratives can trigger potent empathetic responses through the release of neurochemicals such as cortisol and oxytocin."
Krueger also quotes journalist Emily Bazelon:
"Stories have tremendous potential to help kids reflect on not just how other people are feeling but why that is a value . . . They kind of lift kids out of their own situations and give them another vantage point and a way to think about other people's experiences."
We are thus reminded that if we listen to individuals as they tell history—as they tell their stories of what they saw, what they experienced, what they lived, or what happened to them—it helps us to see them as people. It puts a face, a voice, and skin on an actual human being. We can relate to the human experience. We can connect with the person. We can understand the human being. We see the facial expressions; we hear the emotion in the voice; the tone changes; we see them remember. Through this process, history is learned, and empathy is birthed, if not nurtured, in us and in our students. Drawing on visual histories works as an avenue toward creating an empathetic citizenry—a citizenry that cares for one’s fellow man.
Finding Resources for Lessons
Go to echoesandreflections.org. Click on the Lessons link on the home page. Go to Lesson Components. Voila! “Suggested Links” will appear toward the top right of the screen. Click on Visual History Clips by Lesson to discover an index of visual histories listed by topic, speaker, content, and length of the video.
Utilizing the visual history clips—the testimonies—puts a human face on history, History becomes a person-to-person connection rather than information on a page.
Gay Atmajian Biography
Gay Atmajian serves as a Staff Development and Curriculum Specialist in English Language Arts and Social Studies. Her background includes a B.A. in English from UC Davis, an M.A. in Theological Studies from Regent College in Vancouver, BC, and an Administrative Services Credential from Fresno Pacific University. Gay is a world traveler and a former copy editor for Global Road Warrior, a division of World Trade Press. Her career as an educator includes leading adult school Student Success workshops, working as a BTSA support provider for teachers at both elementary and high school levels, a decade of teaching grades 9-12 English Language Arts, and several years serving as an instructional support coach for K-6 instructors.
Gay welcomes opportunities to provide staff development and instructional support in:
- Unit Design
- Curriculum Mapping
- ELA and H/SS California State Standards
- Student Engagement Strategies
- Checking for Understanding
- Integrating VAPA standards in ELA and H/SS
- 21st Century Skills
- Close Reading
Subscribe to SJVCSS
Keep up to date on the latest content, here at SJVCSS. Subscribe below.