The danger of a single story

We were assigned to watch this TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie for my educational psychology class. It really, really touched me. Give it a watch, and then we can talk about how touching it is:

Amazing, right?

I was blown away the entire time I was watching this. And I heartily agree on every point she makes. We can’t just settle for the path of least resistance when it comes to mutual understanding of cultures different than our own; the stereotype doesn’t tell the whole story. I kept thinking of a friend of mine who got deported: highly educated, perfect English, well read, witty and smart … not the typical story of an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. How many other awesome individuals are we missing out on, simply because we don’t take the time to hear their unique story?

However, this also made me think of the importance of interdisciplinary teaching and learning. As teachers, we must realize that our students have lives outside our classroom, and we must learn how to use that to our advantage. A physics teacher who uses guitar strings to discuss the science of waves will reach students normally less than interested in his subject matter, for instance. I have always been a firm believer that interdisciplinary teaching is not only effective, but in fact necessary in any curriculum. We must listen to more than just a single story, and we must teach multiple stories, as well.

Here are some other thoughts from students in my class:

  • The first idea I have to help teachers get to know all of their students’ “whole” stories at the high school level is that the teachers need to begin each school year with a clean slate. They need to make sure that they do not base what they think about their students on previous years (if they have had them in class before) or even on what their colleagues might tell them. Students can change from year to year, causing their stories to change as well. If a teacher sends the message to the students right from the start that she would like to know as much as possible about them and get to know what makes them who they are, then the students might be more likely to open up to the teachers.
  • Initially, I used to internalize the stares of classmates (being the only or one of the few Latinas in a class) and critically evaluate myself. Plenty of times during my college experience, I felt like I didn’t belong in college because I did not see many people who looked like me beside me. With time, I have learned and embraced those stares as pure curiosity by those who stared. I wasn’t annoyed or angry anymore at their curiosity, I had learn to accept and love the fact that I am different from the rest. … The fact that I am a Latina means that I will continuously face obstacles of race and ethnicity every where I go, it is my choice of how I will handle that. One thing is for sure, I have made it too far to let any emotional or structural obstacles discourage me from my goals.
  • Thanks to a few books I recently read I have a number of ideas on how to get a better understanding of my students. One book, suggested to me by a professor here, was Unfinished Business by Pedro Noguera and Jean Wing, which I recommend. One important point it made showed me I have a single story idea of low-income, students’ parents. The book explains that parents really care about their kids’ education and would love to see their kids go to college. I’m embarrassed to say I thought these “caring” parents were few and far between. I think it’s important to get to know parents, as a teacher, when possible. Most parents can’t attend teachers meetings (mine rarely could) so I think teachers should try to meet parents where they can, get an idea of schedules, host parent potlucks, even go to a local hang out. If parents respect the teacher, and teachers respect the parents, I think it would be very beneficial to the student.

I’m really looking forward to this class this semester.

What are your thoughts? Comment below!

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2 thoughts on “The danger of a single story

  1. Excellent commentary on an excellent video. I’ve got to go read some of her novel’s. Any recommendations about which one to read first?

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