"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Friday, May 01, 2009

Storytelling: The Forgotten Art in BSA & What Mothers Have Known for Ages

Thanks to Patrice Killpack for allowing me to post our picture. Patrice is a cool mom with four kids (two of them boys) and another little one on the way. The quotes and stories from the other mothers were also appreciated.

"Storytelling is as basic to a boy as breathing and frogs...and as necessary to Scouting as run-ons and skits," stated Diana Mulligan, a mother and an author from Fresno, California.

She upholds the written word while recognizing the importance of oral storytelling to strengthen communities, homes, and individuals.

What comes naturally for Mulligan and other mothers has been slow to be acknowledged by the Boy Scouts of America. The storytelling merit badge has yet to be created.

Meanwhile, several women, such as Girl Scout Leader and Storyteller Karen Czarnik of Detroit, Michigan, were quick to join the "100,000+ BSA Storytelling Supporters" Facebook group. Czarnik pointed out that the Junior Girl Scouts have the "Now and Then Stories from Around the World" patch.

This may seem like "the boys" are behind on the merit badge endeavor. . .until you take a look at Scouting history. The World Scout Founder, Lord Baden-Powell, wrote the first Scouting manual in a story format and used and encouraged stories as the primary teaching tool of youth.

Storytelling must have been--and continues to be--so much a part of the Scouting culture that they forgot to make a merit badge for it.

Here are Glimpses of Storytelling in Scouting Today:
  • Scoutmaster Minutes
  • Campfire Programs and Yarns
  • Pow Wow Leadership Training with Specific Storytelling Course
  • Skits and Run-ons
  • Communications merit badge with option to tell a personal story
  • Indian Lore merit badge with option to tell short story of an Indian culture
Storytelling is that forgotten yet ever-present art in Scouting.

Whether or not there is a specific time labeled as "storytelling" in the Scouting world, youth are telling stories. Storyteller Kristy Price was proud when her oldest son, an Eagle Scout, did storytelling in his youth. Her 12-year-old son has followed his brother's example and tells stories at present.

In 2005, when gathering signatures in support of the creation of the BSA storytelling merit badge, several Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts asked when the merit badge would be available. Some vowed to be the first to earn it.

I sighed every time I heard this wish. As a Wolf Den Leader, I knew that the BSA would take years before the merit badge came into being as I knew it was only a matter of time before the badge came into existence. I could not promise the boys that the merit badge would be there in time for them. I told them that perhaps they could be future storytelling merit badge counselors.

Then, with 4,315 signatures and a stack of letters of support, the storytelling merit badge proposal went before the National BSA Advancement Committee in May 2006.

It was denied for one reason: the committee could not distinguish the difference between the Communications merit badge and the proposed Storytelling Merit Badge.

When I received the email, I was confused by this response and asked in what way they felt this was the case.

It was obvious to me that the committee did not have a true storytelling experience.

There could have been unsaid reasons of why this committee did not see storytelling's importance such as:

1. Everyone Has The Ability To Do It
When asked to make a list of your strengths, you may list skills such as throwing a football, singing, dancing, etc. Would you remember to add eating, sleeping, and breathing? Along with these basic skills is that of storytelling. Our minds tend to mentally cross off something that we do not think is unique enough for such a list.

There are different levels of skills in being a storyteller. We have probably heard the boring and what seemed like "long" stories mixed with the fantastic ones. The storytelling merit badge would strengthen the skills that are ingrained in us as humans.

Many mothers include storytelling as their list of skills. Yet, it is often the father's example that has stronger influence on whether a child will enjoy reading, writing, or storytelling. Parents need to be "caught" telling stories.

The Watts Family in Highland, UT are a storytelling family. Nannette Watts leads and guides these skills for all her kids. Three have become National Youth Storytelling Showcase finalists while two more have had various awards for their tellings. In their home there is even a "designated stage area". It may not be the kind that you see in a theatre or museum, but it is enough to inspire this art.

2. "Storytelling" Is Not Often Looked At As A Job Skill
People like to use "public speaking" or "presentations" in the job interview setting. Though, if the company wanted star employees, they would want to ask about "storytelling".

While on Facebook, a guy wrote to me, "The whole point of merit badge is to (A) prepare them for life, or (B) give them a glimpse into that profession. I don't know about you, but I don't know any professional storytellers."

I responded to him that I was a professional storyteller and that there were thousands more like me. Even with this fact, he said he did not see a storyteller as a "real profession".

However, I stressed that applied storytelling was key.

As for the Watts Family, one of Nannette's oldest boys no longer pursues storytelling. However, when he completed a career questionnaire in high school, he ranked high in enjoying talking in front of people. We need more youth who have that confidence as they enter the work force.

Applied storytelling in careers is more important than if boys became professional storytellers.

In the health industry there is narrative healing. Education always has a boost in test scores when teaching is story-based. Corporate storytelling has increased sales.

The number one "profession" should be parenthood, and storytelling is an art and a skill that can build relationships between parent and child. These skills would be worthy for any Boy Scout to know.

3. Storytellers Do Not Often Share The Stage With Other Arts
The big stage tends to leave an honored space for theatre, dance, and music. The exception is of the storytelling festival circuit. What is forgotten is that without the stories, we would not know how to act or to move or to create sound. Storytelling is the overarching art.

Why else do we hear people from filmmakers to authors to stand-up comedians to dancers as "storytellers" if it was not an all encompassing art?

In certain places, only the mother keeps the status of storyteller as an honored one. Perhaps this is why when people think of the word "storytelling" that the image of a lady reading stories to preschool age kids is popular.

Elizabeth Ames Jones, Railroad Commissioner of Texas, said, "Storytelling has, in recent years, become less predominant in our society. Its ability to educate our youth is unrivaled. As a mother I understand the value of storytelling to children to develop listening, imagination and comprehension skills."

Do we need more mothers and grandmothers to remind their sons and grandsons of the importance of storytelling?

Yes, we do.

We also invite fathers and grandfathers to do likewise.

Storytelling: it's about family.

What You Can Do About the BSA Storytelling Merit Badge:
1. Join the "BSA Storytelling Supporters" site on Ning and invite all your friends
2. Join the "100,000+ BSA Storytelling Supporters" site on Facebook and invite all your friends
3. Spread the word of this movement to your local, regional, and national BSA offices
4. Send complimentary tickets of storytelling festivals to the National Office of BSA (especially the Advancement Committee)
5. Email me at info@rachelhedman.com for specific projects or assignments

In the meantime, Paschal Baute from Kentucky sent another proposal (can be seen on his site) in May 2009 on the storytelling merit badge that should be seen by the National BSA Advancement Committee soon.

Let us create a buzz to help this work along. Prayers are welcome. After all, the Lord is an amazing storyteller Himself!

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Former Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller