When engaging with students about Media Literacy, I (Pooja) often like to begin with novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s powerful TED talk entitled The Danger of a Single Story. Through the use of her own narrative, Adiche speaks about the prevalence of a “single story” or the dominant culture portrayed throughout most school curriculums. Adiche shares the following memory of being taught a single story:
At about the age of seven … I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather: how lovely it was that the sun had come out. This despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria; we didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.
Adiche speaks about the impacts the single story has on an individual, on a community, and on society at large. While a young school girl in Nigeria, Adiche recalls only reading authors from the West. Having never encountered the works of an African author or seeing people like her appear in books, she believed she could not (or should not) be a writer. She asserts that when we receive only one perspective on anything it 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.”
This TED talk sparks lively discussion in the classroom. Students often think back to their early schooling and many recall “single stories” they experienced. As a class, we capture all of these experiences on a large poster. As new text is introduced in the course we often refer back to this “single story” poster and discuss who’s stories are being represented in what we read/hear/see.
Many of us in North America are enduring the coldest weather in decades. This morning it is -39 Celsius (= -40 F). Bone chilling does not even begin to describe the experience of being out in this weather. Whenever we have frigid weather like this I recall my time as a classroom teacher. I taught in very high needs schools and when winter roared in, many of the children suffered terribly because they did not have adequate winter clothing. Last night on Chris Matthews’ show, Hardball, on MSNBC http://www.msnbc.com/hardball/watch/the-need-to-sustain-the-social-safety-net-108521539760
there was talk about the American Congress wanting to end welfare benefits. All those politicians who vote to end or reduce welfare benefits they should visit an urban school in the depths of winter and tell some children that they do not deserve a winter coat and mittens.
When I was a teacher, every year I would go to children’s clothing stores and beg for winter gear (coats, mittens, boots) for my students who were so inadequately dressed. Never once did I leave a store empty-handed. Many of the teachers on staff engaged in similar missions and many who were moms or dads would bring in winter clothes that their own children had out-grown. So those politicians who want to micro-manage teachers and impose an array of standards should accompany those teachers to children’s stores to beg for donations. I am sure this reality-check would have a real influence because they would learn what teaching is all about. Their view that teachers need to be told what to do and should be penalized for not focusing solely on the “basics” might change. Aren’t winter clothes a basic? I think so. Stay warm! Clare
While I (Pooja) was only in Mumbai, India for two short weeks, I was able to observe (and participate in!) acts of social justice through activism. I was pleased to notice so many young women in organizational and leadership roles.
A week before I had arrived the Indian Supreme Court had reinstated a law criminalizing acts of homosexuality (Section 377 in the Indian Penal Code). I, along with many others, was shocked. This was a huge step backwards for India and its people, in my opinion. Within a matter of days rallies were organized all over India to protest. One of the major rallies was held in the park around the corner from where I was staying. Although the news of Section 377 was truly saddening, I was uplifted to see the youth organize themselves so poignantly. This rally received a lot of coverage and gave hope back to many who had been personally affected by this decision. Below is a link with some images capturing the spirit of the protest in Matunga, Mumbai:
A few days later, while taking a morning walk, I passed by a large group of young girls protesting against the treatment of women in India. Over the past year, media sources in India had shed light on a few horrific rape cases from around India. I asked one of the young women protesting what had inspired them to take this injustice upon themselves. She told me they had organized themselves because they wanted to have their voices heard and their message conveyed: “We are not going to stand for the mistreatment of any woman, anywhere.” For the past week they got together, outside of school hours, to make signs and spread the word. In total there were about 100 young women protesting. They had made there message clear. They stood in solidarity with women all across India. Pooja