John Dewey (1910) was one of the first American educators to express the power of reflective thought and how all ideas come from earlier ideas in an endless succession of cause-and-effect. However, it is unclear if this cause-and-effect chain is fundamental to nature, or perhaps a byproduct of how we perceive and interpret nature. Edward Lorenz (1993) proposed in, "Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wing in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?" how the intricacies of cause-and-effect extend in unexpected ways into the future. Inversely, Salsburg, (2001) in The Lady Tasting Tea points out that while there is a strong intuitive feeling that Lorenz’s theory may be correct, there is in actuality, no scientific proof that cause and effect is a real phenomenon, and suggests a more statistical conception of the universe is a more accurate perspective on life. Whatever the true theoretical nature of cause-and-effect, one can hardly dismiss its practicality in everyday life. Our personal understanding of the cause-and-effect relationships impacts our world often determines success or failure.
There is something about the construction of narrative that seems to promote cause-and-effect style thinking. When events happen we seem to naturally and immediately begin placing them into a narrative. However, without contemplation these narratives can end up overly determined by their emotional impact or fractured into unconnected episodes of narrative that lack commonality, connection or unity. It is our perception and understanding of our own personal narrative that projects us into the future. In psychology this phenomenon is known as self-fulfilling prophecy (Merton,1968), where one’s belief and expectation of the cause-and-effect sequence causes them to behave, quite unconsciously, in ways that makes their belief or expectation come true. This is significant because it means that a person must also take control of their beliefs systems and habits of mind if they want to take control of how their future will unfold.
With this in mind, using a narrative construction to reconstitute a person’s conception of their own history to positively affect their future has had strikingly positive results in my work. By creating this narrative history you enable the creation of a foundation to build on in to the future. As this personal narrative grows the teacher can begin to use it to help their student notice multiple interpretations of events and help them choose the interpretations that will most benefit their development. For students who have been victimized by trauma, learning disabilities or minority class status a narrative enables the teacher to reveal the subtle destructive force of phenomenon like learned helplessness (Maslow, 1970) or stereotype threat (Perry, Steele, & Hilliard, 2003) in a way that actually helps them overcome these phenomena.
Another fascinating aspect of the narrative in these PBP is their ability to contribute to the moral development of the student. As you work with a student, examining their history, a certain kind of moral empowerment begins to develop. “ True conceptions are formed of just modes of action and judgment that connect that perception with detail.”(p.93 Murdoch, 1971). The PBP allows the teacher to unmask the reality that the truest representation of what is, is good, by using that student’s own life as the example. Through this process the student can come to appreciate themselves, both their positive and their negative traits, as a whole. Learning becomes more than just organizational self-care, but true self-love, love that is not idealized and separate from reality, but a love of the imperfect reality itself. What Slavoj Žižek (2009) calls the truest form of love, the ability to see perfection in imperfection.