A Kind of Paradise – Multiple Representations

Have you watched this TED talk?

Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story

As is our habit early on Saturday mornings, AS and I watched HBO’s Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child.  This morning we watched Cinderella.  I have always loved HBO’s versions of fairy tales.  How many of us “see” Walt Disney’s version of Cinderella when we think about this fairy tale?  How many versions of Cinderella’s story are there?  If you haven’t seen HBO’s version, you can view the first 9-ish minutes of Cinderella:

From Chimamanda Adichie:

“So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” 

All of this makes me worry about the unintentional assignment of labels and stereotyping that happens at school.  I worry that we are telling our young learners a single story when we classify them as recommended-for-honors or not-recommended-for-honors.  I worry that we do the same with our adult learners.  Does the single story become the definitive story?

More from Chimamanda Adichie:

“It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power.”  

“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”

How do we celebrate the strengths and contributions of each individual?  How do we show that we are not a single story, but a collection of stories that create the anthology of who we are now?  How do we convey that the story is not complete, that it is a work in progress?  That there are many choices and crossroads ahead? That we have control of the choices and pace?

Again from Chimamanda Adichie:

“The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

How often do our learners overcome their stereotype, self-imposed or otherwise?  Do we just accept the label that we carry?  Do we teach our learners how to overcome a stereotype that they don’t want or accept?

More from Chimamanda Adichie:

“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.”

The target of our assessment plan is to indicate to our learners what is essential to learn, point them to where they are now, and show them how to reach and exceed the target.  With each formative assessment, learners stand at a crossroads and choose to work (or not) for the target.  While we have set the proficiency target at level three, some choose to strive for more.  It is exciting and motivating.  However, some buy into the stereotype and that is discouraging.

Chimamanda Adichie concludes her talk with:

“I would like to end with this thought: That when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

We strive for our learners to have multiple representations of ideas and concepts; do we also help them (and us) have multiple representations of who they are and can become?

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