The Danger of a Single Story: A Reflection
I was quite moved by this TedTalk presentation, particularly the implications it has in the realm of education. Here, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns of "how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children." When there's only one single story, one side of a story, or one element of a culture told in a story, the story is incomplete. From this singularity, stereotypes are born and, even worse, those stereotypes are perpetuated in the retelling of these single stories. The experiences of the reader and of the characters in the stories are flattened, the subjects whose stories have been reduced down to one single story are robbed of their dignity. In this way, there is "no possibility of a connection as human equals."
There are so many parallels between the dangers of a single story she warns us of and the effects this has on our students and our education system. For starters, the point she made of connecting as human equals. Our students represent a diverse population of cultures, identities and beliefs. Day after day, elements of this diversity are reduced to a single story due to lack of validation in the education system. For example, the latino student sitting in an English class reading literature that does not include them. What message are we sending to them about their culture, and to the other students in the class that aren't familiar with their culture? With entire stories being ignored or left out of the conversation, how can we expect our students to connect with each other and recognize the value of every relationship? As Chimamanda tells us, the single story emphasizes our differences rather than our similarities; an unfortunate truth that takes away so much opportunity for learning both inside and outside of school.
When I pause to evaluate how I have been influenced by the telling of single stories, I start to get a clear picture of the source of many biases I've inherited through this system. Thankfully, in today's community of connectivity, we all have the opportunity to research not just one but dozens of stories, broadening our cultural voices and deepening our understanding of cultures all over the world. As a teacher, I can help my students discover their ability to access stories that will open new doors.
If I wasn't determined to make my classroom a community where all students can feel safe to be themselves and grow and connect with their peers via open communication before, I most certainly am now. Not only is it our responsibility to reject the single story, it is part of our legacy to teach those around us to do the same.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. "The Danger of a Single Story." YouTube. TED Talks, 7 Oct. 2009. Web. 5 Oct. 2015. <https://youtu.be/D9Ihs241zeg?list=PLbRLdW37G3oMquOaC-HeUIt6CWk-FzaGp>.
Loved it! This book definitely got my wheels turning. There really is so much good stuff here, I'm not sure where to start. As an artist, I could have taken away a million things from Austin Kleon. As a teacher, I am taking away a bunch of lessons, some that overlap with what I could use as an artist, and some that are different and unique. I'm going to reflect on this book as a teacher, since that is why I'm here after all!
I love the message to "be an amateur." This is a powerful message for all of us, but especially for our students. In talking about the gap between mediocre and good, Austin cites Clay Shirky who says that "the real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.' Amateurs know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing." This is no doubt an important lesson for my students. You can't get good until you start somewhere, and contributing something to your learning is always better than contributing nothing. Along with being an amateur, I'm a big fan of the idea of taking people behind the scenes. With my background in theater, I think it's very powerful for people to get a look backstage to see just how much goes into every moment onstage. The same goes for the classroom. I think that giving students the opportunity to see the value in their day-to-day work is a great motivator. The process is equally, if not more, valuable than the final product, and it's important that my students understand that.
I'd like to inspire my students to find powerful, positive influences, and identify the ways in which these influences inspire them. So I appreciated Austin's statement that "influences are all worth sharing because they clue people in to who you are and what you do--sometimes even more than your own work." I'll be looking for ways to integrate opportunities to share our influences in my classroom wherever possible.
I think there are two statements made in this book that are most important for my students to hear and understand every single day:
"When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don't let anyone else make you feel bad about it. Don't feel guilty about the pleasure you take in the things you enjoy. Celebrate them"
"Make stuff you love and talk about stuff you love and you'll attract people who love that kind of stuff. It's that simple."
As a teacher, can I really ask for anything more than for my students to feel confident, inspired, and driven by their uniqueness? These takeaways were so valuable to me, and I look forward to putting them to good use in my classroom this fall!
Here's my blackout poem I created from page 119: