For example, an image drawn by an 8-year-old boy depicts two things: First, the boy re-creates a traditional storyline from his reading of fairy tales (princess needs saving by a prince). Second, he “remixes” his reading of fairy tales with his own real interest in space travel.
Even though he engaged in discussions on how gender should not determine particular roles in society (e.g., women as caregivers, men as breadwinners), his image suggests that reading traditional stories, such as fairy tales, contributes to his understanding of gender roles.
Our findings are further corroborated by the work of scholar Karen Wohlwend, who found a strong influence of Disney stories on young children. In her research, she found that very young girls, influenced by the stories, are more likely to become “damsels in distress” during play.
However, it is not only the written word that has such influence on children. Before they begin to read written words, young children depend on pictures to read and understand stories. Another scholar, Hilary Janks, has shown that children interpret and internalize perspectives through images—which is another type of storytelling.
Stories for change
Scholars have also shown how stories can be used to change children’s perspectives about their views on people in different parts of the world. And not just that—stories can also influence how children choose to act in the world.
Stories can be used to change children’s perspectives about their views on people in different parts of the world.
For example, Hilary Janks works with children and teachers on how images in stories on refugees influence the way refugees are perceived.
Kathy Short studied children’s engagement with literature around human rights. In their work in a diverse K-5 school with 200 children, they found stories moved even such young children to consider how they could bring change in their own local community and school.
These children were influenced by narratives such as the real-life story of Iqbal Masih, a child activist who campaigned for laws against child labor. (He was murdered at age 12 for his activism.) Children read these stories along with learning about human rights violations and hunger suffered by people around the world. In this school, children were motivated to create a community garden to support a local food bank.
Building intercultural perspectives
Today’s classrooms represent a vast diversity. In Atlanta, where I teach and live, in one school cluster alone, children represent over 65 countries and speak more than 75 languages.
Indeed, the diversity of the world is woven into our everyday lives through various forms of media.
When children read stories about other children from around the world, such as Iqbal, they learn new perspectives that both extend beyond and also connect with their local contexts.
At a time when children are being exposed to negative narratives about an entire religious group from U.S. presidential candidates and others, the need for children to read, see, and hear global stories that counter and challenge such narratives is, I would argue, even greater.
Peggy Albers is a professor of language and literacy education at Georgia State University. This post originally appeared at The Conversation.
This article is from the archive of our partner Quartz.