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The Good Place: A society to match the scenery (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and neighboring)

Teaching youth to perceive the narrative environment
   correcting the cave

The mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save
That in the very happiest intellection
A graceful error may correct the cave.
Richard Wilbur

Consider the narrative environment of youth:

1. What do they hear from their family or those they live with
2. what do they hear from their neighborhood or community, incluidng peers and peer-directed groups, adults including voluntary associations such as churchs and adult directed clubs
3. what do they hear from media
4. what do they hear from school


1. Adults will not be able to control the narrative environment--the focus needs to be on educating youth to make choices
2. We are influenced in more ways than by persuasion--we can, for example, develop a taste for things that we intelletually reject
3. The narrative environment has real (and observable and somewhat predictable) consequences for the sort of community that forms.
4. We contribute to the narrative environment of any group we are part of


1. Be sure that good narratives are available
2. Teach that some stories are better than others
3. Teach the criteria for chosing
4. Be explicit in describing the ways our narrative choices matter to us as individuals and to the communities of which we are part

Questions to address

1. How are we shaped by story
2. What criteria might help discern between better and worse stories
3. What are our responsibilities to the narrative environment of 1. our homes 2. our social groups 3. our neighborhoods 4. our society


1. Use Montana literature for “case studies” to discuss narrative environments
2. Focus on tracing linkages between the stories people act out and the consequences that follow
3. Practice characterizing various communities in terms of their narrative environments (ie, the society created by fur traders at their Rendezvous in the Big Sky, the small town created by the homesteaders in Homesteading, the community Fools Crow is inhabiting at the end of his story)
4. Use the dimensions of reality described by Nozick to construct close reading questions for the literary “case studies”


A student will be able to:

1. Explain was MacIntyre meant by “virtue” (After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre, University of Notre Dame, 1984)
2. Give examples of different communities and the virtues they sought to inculcate
3. Demonstrate ability to identify virtues that are implicit in a narrative. Cite specific passages that illustrate each virtue and provide reasons why this passage is indicative of the virtue specified.
4. Understand what a complex hierarchy is
5. Understand the difference between a contradiction and paradox
6. Be able to discuss an example of principles in conflict, using the concepts of complex hierarchy and paradox

Posted by Michael L Umphrey






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