The Danger of a Single Story: Ted Talk

Context

Students engaged in a unit around power and privilege. They watched movie clips and investigated selections of children’s literature. They engaged in a “privilege walk” and watched PBS clips showcasing children and youth growing up in complex environments, followed by poster walks and presentations.

The unit culminated by focusing on the understanding that we all need to do more to change the structures of power and privilege that have been constructed in our world. Students learned that a small step to help is understanding that none of us is a single story, and we all need to be aware of “The Danger of a Single Story” in perpetuating power and privilege.

After listening to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie share her story in a TED Talk , students wrote a response and a reflection. They considered questions such as:

  • What was one thing the speaker said, which really resonated with you? What did it make you think or realize?
  • Describe a “single story” that you feel is wrongly impacting others.
  • The speaker says that we must reject the single story, and that stories matter because they have the power to break or create dignity. Explain what this comment makes you think of.

In their reflection, they made connections to their own ideas and to the Core Competencies.

The Ted Talk is available at:

https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story#t-771896

 

Illustration

Student Work Sample

This TED Talk was about stereotypes which the speaker described as “single stories” – a single perspective about a group of people, based on very little information. The speaker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, spoke of several stories about being a Nigerian person in America, and meeting a lot of people who only had a single story about Africa. Some people thought that Africa was a country, or that Africa is supposedly filled with poor people and starving children. These assumptions are very incorrect in nature. The speaker talks about how a single story about a different culture or situation can really narrow a person’s thinking and alter their perceptions. That is why it is important to understand that to truly know something, a person needs to collect a lot of stories, and reflect upon the “single story” and hopefully deny the wrong ones. After all, the only way to know something well is to look past the stereotypes and accept the fact that every person is a unique individual and should not be generalized by any stereotypes.

I am not a single story in many ways. First, I do not fit into the single story of a Chinese or Canadian person. I don’t consider myself as being very smart or perfect at everything. I am also not very quiet for overly apologetic, nor do I live in an igloo in a place that snows all the time. I do not fit into most of the single stories about Canadian or Chinese person because I grew up between the two cultures, making me a unique mix between the two. I am shaped by many Chinese traditions, but I also speak up quite often and question traditions a lot. Sometimes, people who judge me based on the single story of a smart kid. They would expect me to know the answers to everything, or at least to have the capabilities to doing any assignment perfectly. This makes for a very uncomfortable feeling. I am different from that single story because I also make mistakes in my assignments, I am just like everyone else. I am also not really a bookworm; I only read books that I am interested in. I may be smarter than others, but that all comes from my own hard work, and a single story does not define my intelligence.

There are a lot of events that shaped me into who I am today. One of the biggest deciding factors of my personalities is how I always ask questions and ponder about almost everything I come across. I often contemplate peoples’ reasons for doing certain things, and I always disagree with opinions that are thought to be right by the majority. I also tend to analyze things very closely and tend to think more logically instead of using emotions. Sometimes those factors get me into conflicts, which causes me to reevaluate my beliefs once more. Since I was little, I was always told to be a reserved person, so as my life progresses, I learn how to speak up at the right times and make comments when appropriate. I used to get into a lot of trouble because I was blunt, which is why my personality changed to being more reserved and polite. Basically, most of the events that make me who I am today are mistakes and conflicts. I develop from them and change my personality, so I can avoid committing the same mistakes again.

Student Reflection

There a few “I” statements” that I believe connect very well here. The first one that I would like to speak to is the statement: “I understand that my identity is influenced by many aspects of my life” as well as “I am aware that my values shape my choices, and contribute to making me a unique individual.” It is true that identity is formed by many “stories”. These stories are the different events and experiences in one’s life. A person’s identity is not made of just a single story; it is made of many things that happen in life, as well as the many choices that are made. Choices influence identity in that some people might purposefully deviate from their culture and traditions; some people make choices that develop a different and unique identity.    

Another “I statement” to reflect on here is: “I can identify how my life experiences have contributed to who I am” and “I recognize the continuous and evolving nature of my identity”. It is very true that the events that happen in a person’s life can shape their identity. Even if a person is born into one culture and has that culture’s “single story” attached to them, different events in their life, such as moving to another country and adapting to the new culture, can impact their identity forever. Peoples’ identities are always changing, and that is why it is wrong to assume stereotype among them. People who choose to label others are not being fair. They do not know about their life, nor what events have occurred to make them that way. Therefore, it is very important to recognize that all life experiences create a person’s identity.

Profile Analysis

Communicating

PROFILE FIVE
I communicate confidently, using forms and strategies that show attention to my audience and purpose.

In discussions and conversations, I am focused and help to build and extend understanding. I am an engaged listener; I ask thought-provoking questions when appropriate and integrate new information. I can create a wide range of communications featuring that feature powerful images and words, and I identify ways to change my communications to make them effective for different audiences. I use my understanding of the role and impact of story to engage my audiences in making meaning. I acquire information about complex and specialized topics from various sources, synthesize it, and present it with thoughtful analysis.

Communicating

PROFILE SIX
I communicate with intentional impact, in well-constructed forms that are effective in terms of my audience and in relation to my purpose.

I contribute purposefully to discussions and conversations. I synthesize, deepen, and transform my own and others’ thinking. I can weave multiple messages into my communications; I understand that my audience will use their own knowledge and experiences in making meaning. I show understanding and control of the forms and technologies I use; I can assess audience response and draw on a repertoire of strategies to increase my intended impact. I can acquire, critically analyse, and integrate well-chosen information from a range of sources.

Personal Awareness and Responsibility

PROFILE SIX
I can identify my strengths and limits, find internal motivation, and act on opportunities for self-growth. I take responsibility for making ethical decisions.

I am aware of my personal journey and reflect on my experiences as a way of enhancing my well-being and dealing with challenges. I can advocate for myself in stressful situations. I can take the initiative to inform myself about controversial issues and take ethical positions. I take ownership of my goals, learning, and behavior. I act on what is best, over time, in terms of my goals and aspirations. I recognize the implications of my choices and consult with others who may be affected by my decisions.. I can identify my potential as a leader in the communities I belong to. I sustain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. 

Positive Personal and Cultural Identity

PROFILE SIX
I can identify how my life experiences have contributed to who I am; I recognize the continuous and evolving nature of my identity.

I can identify how my strengths can help me meet challenges, and how my challenges can be opportunities for growth. I understand that I will continue to develop new skills, abilities, and strengths. I can describe how aspects of my life experiences, family history, background, and where I live (or have lived) have influenced my values and choices. I understand that my learning is continuous, my concept of self and identity will continue to evolve, and my life experiences may lead me to identify with new communities of people and/or place.