Last night I showed my undergraduates (I’m teaching a children’s literature course for a nearby university) this TED talk. I have long loved Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s writing (both fiction and nonfiction). This TED talk is one I have seen many times and still find thought-provoking each time.
My Wednesday night group is a fabulous one. They’re thoughtful and willing to share (either by speaking or putting things in the text). I had struggled with the best way to facilitate discussion of some sort after watching this. It’s a lot to take on and, in the best of situations, a challenging discussion. We are most definitely not in the best of situations and I’m not convinced we’ve established enough trust to engage in these types of conversations meaningfully. No matter how hard I’ve tried. The setting is a challenge and I’m inexperienced when working with undergrads.
So I created some interactive slides for sharing. Each slide asked the question, “What is a single story you know about…” with a different group. I tried to include groups who are often stereotyped in our society. So I had slides for people living with financial hardships, people in the LGBTQ+ community, people of middle Eastern ancestry, people who are overweight, people who are over 75 years old, people who are exceptionally wealthy, and such. I put digital post it notes on each page for students to record their thoughts.
I pointed out that they’d show up on these slides anonymously and suggested they could add single stories they don’t actually believe but that they’ve heard. We took about ten minutes to record thoughts and it was amazing. Students were writing on the slides and jumping back over to the chat to share their thoughts on what they were seeing. We took a bit to reflect on the slides at the end.
Many students remarked on how many of these stories they had heard. How frequently these stories are told in our society and how pervasive they are. One student mentioned how detrimental they are. Not only for the many people who are not in those communities, but for those who are. It began in reference to the stories told about people living with financial hardships, but it was quickly expanded to other communities. Even when you know that the stories being told about your community are not accurate, they are often still internalized and cause shame and challenges.
These stories are windows and mirrors in ways that are harmful and painful. Which makes me feel even more strongly about the importance of books that offer kids windows and mirrors in more meaningful ways (as well as tv shows, movies, video games, and more). Our kids deserve so much more.