Roger: Much of your work is done through learning stories, like Who Speaks for Wolf. Can you tell me about learning stories and how you use them?

Paula: A learning story has to ring true . . . pulls you in. The three I work with come from an event that actually happened. They’ve been honed and polished through the generations.

You need to clear a space in which learning can occur . . . instead of jamming more information into an already crowded circumstance. Who Speaks for Wolf begins, “Almost at the edge of the circle of light cast by central fire – wolf was standing.” There you are, poised at the edge of the circle of light . . . a clear space. The question in your mind irresistibly is, “What’s going on here?” That’s what I mean by drawing someone into the story.

Roger: Learning stories are different from fables?

Paula: Aesop’s Fables are designed to come up with an answer. A learning story has no answers – only explorations. Whereas the tortoise and the hare is a great story, it is designed to teach one thing . . . period. The interaction has a “tortoiseness” and a “hareness” to it, but how did the tortoise and hare relate to their community? What was their community doing at the time?

The first time I head Who Speaks for Wolf, my Dad said, “What may we learn from this?” In my best three-year old language I said, “Huh?” “What do you think about when you hear this story?” “Ummm . . . wolf?” “If something else occurs to you I sure would like to hear about it.” Then he was done. I went around for two or three days aware there was more to this. Finally, I dragged on his pant leg and said, “Daddy, wolf again?” “I think we can find time.” I heard the story hundreds of times before my Father finally said, “Now I say that you have learned all the lessons I myself can find in this telling. After me, you are the singer of this song.” I think I was seventeen . . . that’s how long it takes.

There is a teacher who was in the original pilot project who never read a story to her class without reading it to herself first, so she went home and read it out loud. She came to the end and said, “Huh? Oh well, this is a pilot project. I guess I really ought to do this for the kids and test it out.” When she read it for her class, she came to the end and said, “Oh!” She told me afterwards, “I’ve been learning from it ever since.” There’s always something else to be learned. It’s never boring.

Roger: How did Who Speaks for Wolf come to be used in schools?

Paula: My editor, Jean Slobod, had been invited to do a presentation at church. She called me and asked if it was all right to read Who Speaks for Wolf which was just in manuscript form. A woman came up to her afterwards and said, “I am an Assistant Supervisor of the Austin School System. We have got to have that book in our school.” She wanted to begin a pilot project . . . she picked a social studies magnet school to work on it. The teachers got very excited.

After a couple years the Texas Commission on the Humanities named it their Exemplary Program of the Year. That brought us to the attention of an organization researching exemplary educational programs for the US Department of Education. We were invited to apply. Out of 129 programs nominated – and they were all good – we were one of nine chosen.

Roger: Can you explain the meaning of the title of your book, Three Strands in the Braid?

Paula: Three Strands in the Braid comes from the three learning stories . . . aids to developing the capacity to learn. Each of them is designed over thousands of years to enable each individual to learn in terms of body, mind and spirit. As you begin to develop wisdom in each of these ways, the next step is to braid them together so you use all of these in some balanced way. A braid looks ungainly unless woven of equal strands, with equal tightness as you go. If you braid these three aspects of life carefully and bind them at the end with thought to hold the pattern, then you have something coherent. And in my tradition – the Old Ways – braiding hair was a meditation. Body, mind, spirit . . . body, mind, spirit . . . body, mind, spirit.