The above video is a TED talk given in 2009 by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- the same woman who was featured in Beyoncé’s video for “Flawless”- if you know it, yes, that one. If you don’t I suggest you watch it here. I have to be honest before I get too far into this post, though. This is not the first time I’ve viewed this TED talk. The first time I watched this, it was in a Black Feminism Gender Studies class in my undergrad studies. I fell in love with this philosophy of looking at the world. Adichie’s main argument to the audience is to move beyond a single understanding and attempt to consider the less obvious, the hidden- multiple stories. Adichie calls this single story “dangerous” because when the same oppressive single stories are told and retold about groups, communities, and people, those groups, communities and people cease to be anything but that single story that gets repeated. When the single story becomes all that you are, you have lost your identity in its completeness and you are robbed of your dignity. “Stereotypes are not untrue, but they are merely incomplete”.
Since having first watched this, I have tried to put Adichie’s call for change into action in my own life. I believe that searching beyond the single story ( for ideas, about people, groups, and more) has made me a better student and person.
Interestingly enough, I had the opportunity to share this- my favorite TED talk of all time by one of my favorite feminists- with my students just two days ago. I am currently in my first semester of clinical practice (student teaching) for my teaching credential and I am teaching two sections of Expository Reading and Writing Course to high school seniors. The reactions of my students were varied in their interest and understanding; but I was moved when, at the end of the talk, some of my students began a genuine round of applause for Adichie’s words. This is just a hopeful picture to me of what students are capable of understanding about our world and how to fix it in its broken places.
It’s been easy for me to re-watch this presentation through the eyes of a (new) teacher, based on several levels. The first: as educators, we can never rest on the single story we seem to have of our students. No child- no person- is just one thing. People are complex and full of depth- even if they’re sixteen and- to your mind- only exist to make 4th period a pill. If you have a single story of a student, move beyond that. What valuable depths are you missing, what dignity are you robbing from your student if you do this?
The second level of application in education I see for this philosophy is the responsibility we have to our students- and as a result, the future world- to increase the number of stories they can tell about experiences not their own. If we build young people up to honor those different to them by looking for the “balance of stories”, we are doing a service to ourselves in the future. If future generations see the balance of stories, human dignity remains intact for more people than our current world. Can you imagine the freedom from hate, from hate speech and violence etc that would be possible if the dangerous single story was eradicated? I’ll leave you with Adichie’s words because she says it much better than I do. “When reject the single story, we regain a type of paradise.” I want to help build that paradise through (hopefully) inspiring those whom I teach.
Adichie, Chimamanda. The Danger of a Single Story. (2009, October7). TED talk. [youtube video]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg&list=PLbRLdW37G3oMquOaC-HeUIt6CWk-FzaGp&index=6
I'm a Teaching Credential Candidate at CSUSM working towards a credential in English and Social Studies/History. Here's where I'll share my thoughts on various articles and videos related to teaching as well as my experiences in the education world.