How Stories Teach Morals

How Stories Teach Morals

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." ~Proverbs 22:6

The question is, of course, how do we train up a child? How do we teach them to pursue what is right and true? 

I’m no parent, so this article relies heavily on quotes from people who are wiser than me and who actually are parents. Someday, I may very well reread this article and laugh. Still, I’ve been reading about education recently, and I believe the best way to raise a child and to mature as a person myself is by reading stories. Andrew Peterson once said, “If you want a child to know the truth, tell him the truth. If you want a child to love the truth, tell him a story.”

In Tending the Heart of Virtue, Vigen Guroian wrote, "Mere instruction in mortality is not sufficient to nurture the virtues. It might even backfire, especially when the presentation is heavily exhortative and the pupil's will is coerced. Instead, a compelling vision of the goodness of goodness itself needs to be presented in a way that is attractive and stirs the imagination. A good moral education addresses both the cognitive and affective dimensions of human nature. The great fairy tales and fantasy stories capture the meaning of morality through vivid depictions of the struggle between good and evil, where characters must make difficult choices between right and wrong or heroes and villains contest the very fate of imaginary worlds. The great stories avoid didacticism and supply the imagination with important symbolic information about the shape of our world and appropriate responses to its inhabitants." 

In other words, just telling a child what to do is not enough. Good education addresses both the head and the heart, and it does this by capturing the imagination and avoiding being preachy.

William Kilpatrick adds, "Imagination is one of the keys to virtue. It's not enough to know what's right. It's also necessary to desire to do right. Desire, in turn is directed to a large extent by imagination. In theory, reason should guide our moral choices, but in practice, it is imagination much more than reason that calls the shots. Too often our reason obediently submits to what our imagination has already decided. This was well understood by Plato, who had quite a bit to say about educating the imagination. Children, he said, should be brought up in such a way that they will love virtue and hate vice." 

People fall in love with virtue by characters who make it appealing because they want to be like the heroes in the stories. Stories, be they shared on blogs, in books, or in letters my penpals write about their lives, have taught me empathy and given me greater understanding for those who are different from me. They have shown me what courage looks like in a variety of circumstances. They have taught me how to love. We all only have one life with limited experiences, but if we read, it's almost as if we've lived hundreds.

Give children stories to hold onto, and even when they are old, they will still live by the morals conveyed in them.


Thanks for commenting, Lilly! I just checked out your blog too. :)

Lauren Watt

Hey Lauren!
I found your website through Phoebe Smucker’s. As a writer, I agree with this post. It’s my opinion all stories should teach morals, but not be preachy.


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