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Module 10: Diversity of text, hands down is the module that had the biggest impact on me.  This module focused on a variety of aspects and issues related to diverse texts:

  • The need for more diverse texts in our homes, classrooms and libraries
  • How children’s literature can be understood as providing windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors
  • How diverse texts can inspire people to make a difference
  • How cultural preservation can happen through stories
  • Why retelling stories from a culture different than one’s can be problematic
  • How to authenticate works of fiction and non-fiction
  • What authentic Indigenous voice means

All of the information presented in this module is paramount to my role as a teacher-librarian.  Selecting just one of the writing prompts was not an easy task.  The writing prompt I selected is: Consider and discuss the salient points of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk: the danger of a single story and make parallels to our current contexts.  

What is a single story?

As indicated by title The danger of a single story, this TED talk does just that – it addresses the danger of a single story.  A single story is explained as a narrative that presents only one perspective repeated again and again; the narratives are often told by an outsider to the culture that is being represented, and ultimately result in the development of a perspective of a people or place that is based on stereotypes (Adichie, 2009).  She states that “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story” (Adichie, 2009).  She explains that “it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”  Her words illustrate the absolute power stories have both for good and for bad.  In an effort to deepen my own understanding of Adichie’s explanation of the single story, I summarized what I took from her talk into the graphic below.

single story graphic

Parallels to our current contexts

Adiche’s own admission of being convinced by single story narratives both as a child and as an adult illustrates not only how “vulnerable we [all] are in the face of a story” (Adichie, 2009) but also why it is so important to think critically and teach our students to think critically about the stories we are presented with and the ones that we present.  This is particularly important with respect to Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.   We need to think about “What stories [we are] drawing on as [we] engage truth and reconciliation education” (Madden, 2019) and whether these stories are working to provide true understanding of the effects of settler colonialism or are they unintentionally working to assert stereotypes (Madden, 2019).

The Wiltse article provides a poignant example of the effect that well meaning but uninformed teaching practices can have.  In Mirrors and Windows: Teaching and Research Reflections on Canadian Aboriginal Children’s Literature, Wiltse discusses her experiences in her first teaching position in a predominantly Aboriginal community in the Caribou-Chilcotin region of BC and outlines her struggles to find a novel, within the district supplied resources, that could be a mirror for her students  (Wiltse, 2015, 22-23).  She was excited to find a novel that was set in their region that featured Aboriginal characters and without first critically evaluating the novel she began reading it with her class.  Rather than empowering her students, the story worked to further marginalize them by perpetuating stereotypes about Aboriginal people with lines like “never trust an Indian with liquor” (Wiltse, 2015, 23).  She admits that at the time she was not comfortable confronting the stereotypes so she just let them pass unchecked and that her own silence worked to reinforce the single story that this novel perpetuated.

With the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives into BC’s new curriculum, having access to quality authentic indigenous resources is essential.  Luckily for BC teachers, “First Nations publishing has come into its own over the past twenty years with even more progress in the past five years” (Delvecchio) and we have the guidance of the First Nations Educational Steering Committee and there documents: Authentic First Peoples Resources and BC First Peoples Learning Resources: Books for Use in K-7 Classrooms to help us in the selection of these resources.  The Ministry of Education has also worked in collaboration with the First Nations Education Steering Committee, Métis Nation British Columbia, and British Columbia Teacher’s Federation, to gather Indigenous educational resources to help further incorporate Indigenous knowledge and perspectives into B.C.  These resources can be found on their Indigenous Education Resources page and includes an Indigenous Resource Inventory  and professional development resources listed under Continuing Our Learning Journey: Indigenous Education in BC (Ministry of Education).

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Final thoughts

Going back to the original writing prompt: Consider and discuss the salient points of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk: the danger of a single story and make parallels to our current contexts, I feel conflicted.  While I have covered what I see to be Adiche’s main points about single stories and have made connections to Indigenous education in Canada – I feel that I have only scratched the surface.  I am humbled by Adiche’s ability to distill such a big topic so eloquently into a 20 minute talk. My favorite quote from her speech that I will carry around with me as I select, evaluate, purchase, curate, remove, defend, promote, and share literature in our school library and beyond is that “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity” (Adiche, 2009).

References

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. (2009). The danger of a single story. [online] YouTube. Available at:
https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?

Madden, Brooke. (2009)  Indigenous Counter-Stories in Truth and Reconciliation EducationEdCan Network, 11 Mar. 2019.

Ministry of Education (2019-2020).  Indigenous Education Resources.  BC’s New Curriculum.

Wiltse, L. (2015). Mirrors and windows: Teaching and research reflections on canadian aboriginal children’s literature. Language and Literacy, 17(2), 22-n/a.