Sam Harmon, left, is interviewed by his grandson Ezra Awumey, right, while his daughter Vivian Awumey, back right, watches, inside StoryCorps soundproof booth. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Teens take part in "Great Thanksgiving Listen"
November 09, 2015
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Students are nearing their Thanksgiving break. It may come with a big homework assignment. StoryCorps wants teenagers across America to interview a grandparent or elder this Thanksgiving. And upload their recordings to the Library of Congress.
The nonprofit oral history group is asking high school history teachers to have their students record the interviews. It can be done using StoryCorps' free smartphone app. Recordings sent to the library will become part of an open archive. It will be kept at the American Folklife Center.
"The Great Thanksgiving Listen" is an assignment that will last for generations. That is according to the founder of StoryCorps. He is Dave Isay.
"When young people do these interviews and they hit 'send' at end of the interview to the library, they know that their great-great-great-great-great-grandkids are going to get to eavesdrop on this conversation someday. And get to understand where they come from. Who their ancestors were," Isay said.
He hopes it becomes a yearly tradition. He wants it to bring families closer together. Using modern technology will help keep the wisdom of their elders.
The students could tap into memories of events dating back to the 1920s. But Isay said the stories are less important than the fact that two people are talking.
"The purpose of StoryCorps is to have the two people who have this conversation feel more connected with each other. And give the person who is being interviewed the chance to be heard," he said. "It is not so much what is in the stories as what the experience is like for the people who are recording."
Brandon Clarke is an administrator at the private Berkeley Carroll School. It is located in Brooklyn, New York. He is excited about the project. He said StoryCorps is headquartered near the school. They interviewed some of his teachers. It was done while making a teacher's guide. It was made for the Thanksgiving project.
Berkeley Carroll students may get some classroom practice. It would take place a couple of weeks before the holiday. The practice will be aimed at improving their interview skills, Clarke said.
"How do you develop good questions? How do you go about conducting an interview? How do you build off of a really interesting response?"
But Isay said interviewing is not hard. He said he has learned from listening to some of the 60,000 conversations StoryCorps has collected since 2003. He said people are naturally good at it.
"It is just a matter of concentrating. Being present. Making sure you are in a quiet place," he said. "I think people understand the importance of the moment. And they treat it very seriously."
About 13 million radio listeners hear edited versions of StoryCorps interviews every Friday. They are heard on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." StoryCorps also shares parts of recordings. They do this through animated videos and podcasts. And also on its website. Those stories are largely chosen from the 5,000 interviews done yearly by visitors to StoryCorps' mobile recording booth. Or at its permanent booths. Those are in New York and Chicago. They are also in San Francisco and Atlanta.
The StoryCorps app came out in March. Users have recorded and uploaded 10,000 interviews. The app was funded by a $1 million TED prize. And a $600,000 grant came from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Isay said the Thanksgiving project will help spread the idea that history comes from the bottom up. The idea was backed by the late Chicago writer, historian and broadcaster Studs Terkel.
"This is a really great example of how oral history is really history," Clarke said. "For it to be legitimate history, it does not have to appear in print in a carefully edited book. Individual stories, individual perspectives are also part of history."
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What can be learned by talking to older people?
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