Teens take part in "Great Thanksgiving Listen"
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Students are getting ready to head to their Thanksgiving break. With that 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 app. Recordings sent to the library will become part of a publicly available 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 StoryCorps founder 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 by using modern technology to save 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 is an administrator at the private Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, New York. He is excited about the project. He said StoryCorps is headquartered near the school. They interviewed some of his teachers while creating a teacher's 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. It is heard on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." StoryCorps also shares parts of recordings through animated videos, podcasts and 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 in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Atlanta.
The StoryCorps app was released 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 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 supported 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 doesn't have to appear in print in a carefully edited book. Individual stories, individual perspectives are also part of history."
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What can be learned by talking to older people?
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