The Underlying Stories we tell in Education

There are underlying stories that come to life when we look at what we teach and why we teach it. We as educators choose who will speak, what information will be highlighted, how the curriculum will come to life. We essentially choose what underlying stories we will tell when we choose whose voices will prevail. 

We often hear that we should include all voices of students in our classrooms. This is impossible.  When we hear that we need to include all voices, it can either make us feel very hopeful and work toward unrealistic goals, or full of despair that there is no way we can meet that goal. We don’t need this kind of pressure.

What we need is to ‘reframe’ what we are learning. Reframe how we interpret the student voices that we choose to hear. Perhaps choose voices from different perspectives and backgrounds, to change the underlying stories about how we make sense of the world. We may not even realize that the curriculum is only a guideline, or that we favour certain voices over others. 

Including ALL voices is not realistic. There are countless differences in the classroom, and countless intersections of differences. Next, even if we could acknowledge every single difference in the classroom, we could start contradicting ourselves.

The voices that we do include however, form together to create the ‘story’ of our learning. The ‘story’ of the people. The story of our curriculum, the story of our biases, stereotypes, and the story about who’s voices are the most important. Stories that hide a deep level of racism that we are unaware of.

Most often, we focus on the accomplishments of the privileged. The privileged people in history, the privileged students in our classrooms, the privileged problems that math and science can solve.

As a result, the underlying story becomes a rich account of teaching and learning that is one-sided, privileged, oppressive and non-representative of the many differences that exist in our classrooms and communities.

If we included and focused on other voices that what we consider ‘normal’, then our underlying stories would change.

But we need to stop and check our own thinking first, for instance:

  • If we have students of colour in our classes, do we expect them to speak to racial differences only? If FNMI students look white, do we deny their cultures and histories?
  • Do we ‘add-on’ books about women in STEM careers and call it a job well done?
  • Do we assume that people living in poverty chose to live that way due to laziness, or poor mindsets?
  • Do we acknowledge the stories from the working class in the creation of our history?
  • Do we assume that it is the job of a second language learner to assimilate into ‘our’ story?
  • Does our math lesson only teach students to solve privileged problems?
  • Do we interact with teachers and students in way that disrupts our story about what is normal?
  • Is it enough to simply say that the Aboriginal peoples helped out Canada in the war during a Remembrance Day assembly, and assume that now students have the full story?


The fact is that it is easy to assume that the ‘other’ student is responsible for telling his or her story, and responsible for representing all ‘others’.

Also, just adding books and resources can be dangerous too because we end up objectifying the differences.

We falsely assume that there is a storyline that we must adhere to – a story that tells us about what ‘normal’ really is in the world. What ‘normal’ learning looks like. What ‘normal’ teaching and curriculum are.

Twitter is easy in certain ways, because you can follow people who you like or agree with the most. You can be continually reinforced for your own story about what is normal. You can use twitter passively and not seek out that which truly challenges or upsets your teaching and learning storyline.

We need to construct new stories.

Innovation alone won’t change the stories. Edtech itself won’t solve any problems. We need critical awareness of ourselves and how each and everyone of us is part of the problem everywhere.

Our ‘normal’ story about Canada is that it was built and led by strong, privileged white male settlers. Aboriginal people were here first, but their perspective is not equally represented in the curriculum. This story needs to change to recognize and learn new stories about Canada from the First people here. This is most certainly a story that need to be released.

What stories do you wish were heard? 


C 2016




Kumashiro, K. (2001). “Posts” perspectives on anti-oppressive education in Social Studies, English, athematics, and Science classrooms. Educational Researcher, 30(3), 3–12.




4 responses to “The Underlying Stories we tell in Education”

  1. Kit Avatar

    Thanks for the food for thought Deb. I also think about people with disabilities and how we choose to see them as outside of normal, as objects of pity or inspiration, not whole individuals. So often we choose resources for our classes that teach about a disability rather than resources that include a varied representation of the students in our schools. Lots to ponder.


    1. Deborah McCallum Avatar

      Hi Kit,
      I absolutely agree. There is a complete lack of resources in our curriculum, libraries, classrooms and online that help promote a more equal representation of those with disability – hidden or visible.
      I think we also see disability as outside of ‘normal’, because they are not part of the ‘normal’ story we hear in our schools – and resources are just one aspect of this. For instance, there is danger when we uncritically put ourselves in the places of ‘helpers’ – then we put people with disabilities in the place of someone that needs to be helped – which can be further marginalizing for our students with disability. I agree with you that choosing resources with a varied representation is absolutely essential. I think that we need to not just focus on the disabled ‘other’, but re-shift our focus onto what we think about them. Exploring our own biases and really agitating the stories about what we think about those who have disabilities – hidden or visible. We really need to challenge some of the ‘narratives’ that are out there. and it is difficult to do this without resources to reinforce. Thank you for bringing this up!


  2. Alicia Avatar

    Our saying in social studies this year is “Le passe, s’est passe, mais l’histoire c’est une histoire. Qui la raconte?” Loosely translated, the past happened, but history is a story. Who’s telling it? Figuring out how to think critically about the resources and information we have is an important step, but I know it isn’t enough. Talking about inclusiveness is great, but how do we live it in our everyday classroom life? Great questions – thanks for making me think. Again.


    1. Deborah McCallum Avatar

      Thank you very much! I love your quote as well, and think it provides a great context for us when examining who is speaking, sharing and more – I also agree that inclusiveness is a much deeper concept than many of us give it credit for, and thinking about who we are in fact including – how would we even know?
      Thank you very much again as well! D;)


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