May 18, 2023
What can our students learn from stories that reflect diverse cultural worldviews about human behavior and lived experiences? Fables and myths are two ways that people have traditionally passed down and retold stories about their collective knowledge, experience, and understanding of our world. When we retell stories, it is “to tell again or in another form” (Merriam-Webster, 2023). By retelling these old stories in another form, students have additional opportunities to develop empathy, cultivate their imagination, and explore the human experience over time and through space. However, it is important to be aware and respectful when we retell stories. For some people and communities, their old stories may be part of their living culture and way of life. So be considerate and sensitive to the cultural backgrounds of your students.
Let’s look more closely at fables and myths. What is a fable, and what is its purpose? A fable is a brief narrative story with a moral or lesson that usually has animals with human behaviors and qualities such as speech. “In these narratives, the animal characters have all the physical features of animals. Yet, everything else about them is anthropomorphic; they certainly behave like human beings. Thus they are regarded as masks for making social comments on contemporary issues” (Obiora & Eke).
There are many compelling reasons for including the teaching of fables in our schools, and many of you are already using these with great effect not only in elementary school but also in middle school. Fables teach personification, moral dilemmas, cultural values, and traditions and inspire interdisciplinary lessons or units. Fables from different cultures include: The King of the Forest (Chinese), Buri and the Marrow (Bengali), The Enormous Turnip (Russian), and The Hare’s Revenge (Malaysian). This last fable teaches children perseverance and cooperation. It features a clever hare that exploits the lion’s jealousy and vanity to trick the latter and escape.
While a fable often reflects human behavior and dynamics, a myth, on the other hand, is defined as “a powerful traditional story that a culture uses to unfold its own worldview and beliefs, or its explanation for natural phenomena” (Merriam-Webster, 2023). Myths can be used in the classroom to explore stories behind the occurrence of natural phenomena, such as the reason we have seasons; students could consider what a myth about the climate emergency might look like. We often think of myths…