Teens take part in "Great Thanksgiving Listen" 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"
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As students head to their Thanksgiving break, here comes a big homework assignment: StoryCorps wants tens of thousands of teenagers across America to interview a grandparent or elder this Thanksgiving and upload their recordings to the Library of Congress.
 
The nonprofit oral history organization is asking high school history teachers to have their students record the interviews with StoryCorps' free smartphone application. Recordings sent to the library will become part of a publicly accessible archive at the American Folklife Center.
 
"The Great Thanksgiving Listen" is an assignment that will last for generations, StoryCorps founder Dave Isay said.
 
"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 an annual tradition that brings families closer together by using modern technology to preserve the wisdom of 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's not so much what's in the stories as what the experience is like for the people who are recording."
 
Brandon Clarke, an administrator at the private Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, New York, is enthusiastic about the project. He said StoryCorps, which is headquartered near the school, interviewed some of his teachers while developing an instructional guide for the Thanksgiving project.
 
A couple weeks before the holiday, Berkeley Carroll students may get some classroom exercises aimed at sharpening 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 isn't hard. He said he has learned from listening to some of the 60,000 conversations StoryCorps has collected since 2003 that people are naturally good at it.
 
"It's just a matter of concentrating, being present, making sure you're 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 on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." StoryCorps also shares excerpts of recordings through animated videos, podcasts and its website. Those stories are largely selected from the 5,000 interviews done annually by visitors to StoryCorps' mobile recording booth or its permanent booths in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Atlanta.
 
Users of the StoryCorps app, released in March, have recorded and uploaded 10,000 interviews. The app was funded by a $1 million TED prize and a $600,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
 
Isay said the Thanksgiving project will help spread the notion - championed by the late Chicago writer, historian and broadcaster Studs Terkel - that history comes from the bottom up.
 
Clarke agreed.
 
"This is a really great example of how oral history is really history," Clarke said. "For it to be legitimate history, it doesn't 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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COMMENTS (51)
  • sierrab-ste
    11/09/2015 - 04:59 p.m.

    I think this is a good idea to have kids do this. People need to remember our history and to keep it known so all future generations can learn about it as well. More kids should be doing this.

  • jaylynnj-Orv
    11/10/2015 - 01:04 p.m.

    What if your grandparents don't like our generation "filming everything with those darn smartphones" and are refusing to be interviewed? You can't record them without their permission. I think people should also be able to hand write an interview too.

  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    11/10/2015 - 02:32 p.m.

    This is awesome because it preserves generations. As generations go on, they are thankful for different things and one day the kids will have no idea what the older people are even talking about.

  • oliviaw-4-bar
    11/12/2015 - 09:56 p.m.

    By speaking with an elder, one can learn a tremendous amount about their own history, life in general, and about what life was like in the past. As StoryCorps articulates it, "The purpose of StoryCorps is to have the two people who have this conversation feel more connected with each other...". From this statement, we can see the individual growth of those who have taken the time to speak to their relatives, especially those who are older than them. As someone who has MANY older relatives, I personally found this article, and its information, to be extremely important and accurate. I believe that the only true way to understand what happened in the past is to speak to someone who lived through it.

  • logang3-cal
    11/17/2015 - 10:18 a.m.

    You can learn about what life was like in the past by talking to older people. Dave Isay said,their decedents,"...get to understand where they come from, who their ancestors were." I think this is really important because later in life,we will know how people had to live.

  • kassadyw.-tay
    11/17/2015 - 12:21 p.m.

    You an learn about history and how this affected the outcome off things today and learn not to repeats the same mistakes they did.

  • joer.-tay
    11/17/2015 - 12:26 p.m.

    Wish they had this for our grandparents

  • peytond.-tay
    11/17/2015 - 12:30 p.m.

    I like this not a lot of people or families have ways to connect anymore so this could be fun

  • landynm.-tay
    11/17/2015 - 12:36 p.m.

    I think that is cool that this organization is not only leaving the interviews for future generations to see but this will probably help the interviewers learn more about the person they interviewed.

  • kailynh.-tay
    11/17/2015 - 12:37 p.m.

    I've heard of this before and I've actually done this with my 6th grade class. I think its a great way to learn to respect our elders more because we get the chnave to know more about their past and we get to see the many different traditions of thanksgiving all over the world. Its a brilliant wy to help people share the things they want to share about this special holiday.

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