Critical Literacy and the Power of Multiple Perspectives

One thing I am interested in is how to deepen and complicate students’ understanding of issues by introducing them to multiple perspectives. We are learning about critical literacy in one of my courses this week, which involves examining the relationship between language, power, and privilege, and asks students to engage in authentic explorations of these issues in their lives and the broader community.

Thinking about critical literacy and exploring ways to incorporate it in the classroom reminded me of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful TED talk on the danger of a single story. If you haven’t watched her talk, I’d encourage you to check it out here.

She discusses issues related to critical literacy and reveals the power and complexity that comes from telling your own or another person’s story. She explains that:

Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, “secondly.” Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story. (TED, 2009)

She recalls how when she was growing up in Nigeria she was primarily exposed to British and American literature, and so when she began to write her own stories they involved characters that were “white and blue-eyed” and “played in the snow.” When she discovered Nigerian authors that wrote about their experiences she realized that her stories “could also exist in literature” (TED, 2009). Adichie’s experience emphasizes how important it is to offer students multiple perspectives on current events, conflicts, and problems, and how critical it is that we seek out these alternative perspectives ourselves.

One way I think librarians can teach critical literacy is through lessons on media literacy. We can encourage students to analyze and question issues of value and power in advertising, news stories, and other media. Pulling in primary sources like first-person narratives, photographs, and other documents to supplement a history textbook could also complicate the single story and add richness and multiple perspectives to students’ study of historical events. I’m also interested in how this focus on incorporating multiple perspectives might be applied to a book club or literature circle. I can imagine asking students to pick different books, short stories, media clips, or articles surrounding a particular event or issue and then have them discuss the different perspectives offered by their texts. These activities would engage students’ critical thinking and evaluative skills and start conversations about the messages behind these texts.

Are there other ways you’ve implemented critical literacy or the use of multiple perspectives in your classroom?


TED. (2009). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en

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3 thoughts on “Critical Literacy and the Power of Multiple Perspectives

  1. I love the Danger of a Single Story. It provides a nice way to consider how we understand various populations. I always think about it in relation to students who are labeled as struggling readers and the stories that permeate our culture about how we understand them (surprise! they are limiting).

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  2. I love watching this TED Talk and the whole concept of a single story. Connecting it to our critical literacy week was such a smart idea! I can also imagine using Chimamanda Adichie’s talk WITH older students and then asking them to think about the power of single stories that are told about us, having each student identify [could be on paper] a single story that is told about him or her and then writing a short counter-story narrative. OR, To connect to the community, students could pick anyone from the news, web-page, newspaper story, etc. that they think is being defined by a single story. Who is telling that story? What is the counter-story? Can you find it? If not, can you write it?

    Do you think this sort of lesson would work with students?

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  3. I love that idea Julie! This reminds me of what were talking about with American Born Chinese and having students create their own comic strip dealing with stereotypes. I think high school students would appreciate the talk and it would be a nice way to frame a lesson on multiple perspectives. I also like the idea of examining news stories for bias and reliability and connecting that to critical literacy. This could be a good intro to a research unit to encourage students to seek out diverse perspectives on their topic.

    Leigh – I like how you thought of the single story in terms of struggling readers. I hadn’t connected this talk to the stories that surround the concept of a “struggling reader” and agree that we must diversify these limiting narratives!

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