Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story

Recently, the History Department at my school has circulated the TED talk from Chimamanda Adichie, The Danger of a Single Story.

The talk is a beautiful challenge for us all to remain diligent about learning the complexity of people – not to rely on the shallowness and incompleteness of a single story. In the talk, Adichie makes numerous statements of profound importance, full of thought-provoking resonance. I include two quotes below:

So that is how to create a single story. Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.

The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

Now, Adichie’s message is richly and deeply human. And I mean not to cheapen the message by reflecting on just one of the applications that is presently poignant for me. However, I believe a number of schools are in danger of committing the “danger of a single story” as it relates to the way in which some view global connectedness for young learners. As I explained in my post, Be Safe and Teach Them to Drive, I believe adamantly in keeping children safe. Nevertheless, I also worry about the power of some single messages – some “single stories” – to demonize the effect of the online community on young learners. Certainly, there are dangers, but there are also amazing opportunities to connect with countless teachers and co-learners. We can make our decisions as schools from a perspective overly dominated by fear, or we can make our decisions as schools from a perspective more evenly dominated by positive possibility. Both demand that we protect children and keep them safe, but they are not at all alike in how the perspectives shape how we step and walk down the path – with anxiety-ridden trepidation or with confident thoughtfulness.

A tapestry of perspectives needs to be woven from a diversity of view points and multiple stories – stories rich in visual detail and purposeful imagery. Guiding our students to become global citizens who understand the danger of a single story demands that we do so.

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