When we are telling stories, we make, consciously or unconsciously, choices on what we tell and how we tell it, because this will influence our listeners’ perception. On the other hand, we are also expected to tell stories in a certain way. After ten years of ethnographic research by participant observation, Shirley Brice Heath suggests that there are fundamental differences in narrating stories between black and white working class communities. She studied these differences with regards to the socialisation of children and their consequences for success in school.
In the white community Heath named Roadville, children are taught facts about the world and there is emphasis on moral lessons. In conversation, children have a subordinate role and are discouraged from discussion and creative problem-solving. Consequently, also when children tell stories, adults make them focus on facts with the events in the correct sequence but without creative elaboration. It is highly appreciated when someone is telling a story in which he or she makes a mistake and learns a lesson from it.
In contrast, children growing up in the black community named Trackton are not taught facts but learn by watching the adults’ behaviour and listening to stories about their experiences. To interact with adults, children are not supposed to wait until they are spoken to but have to compete with the others for the right to speak. To catch the listeners’ attention, they tell factual but “spiced” stories in which they usually describe themselves as clever, tough and finding unconventional solutions for their problems.
These differing ways of seeing and describing the world conflict with some school expectations. Roadville children mostly match these expectations when it comes to sitting in class quietly and answering questions the teacher asks. They lack, on the other hand, the ability of taking initiatives, problem-solving and telling fictive stories. Trackton children have problems with matching the school expectations since they are used to work out problems and fend for themselves. Their advantage is in creative thinking and telling fictive stories.I was wondering how the teacher’s background influences the children’s behaviour at school and, hence, the results of the study. The fact that Trackton children are regarded as too active for the conventional school system implies that their teacher is white, since a black teacher would probably have been socialised in the same way and would, therefore, understand their behaviour. The perfect teacher should sanction neither the Roadville nor the Trackton way of interaction and telling stories but train both skills and teach how to choose the adequate perspective for different situations.
 R. Mesthrie, J. Swann, A Deumert & W. Leap (eds.) Introducing Sociolinguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000, p. 191