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