Eighth grade social studies teacher Jenny Chung is helping her students combat stereotypes — through the power of storytelling.
She and other middle school teachers in Cambridge, Mass., are asking students to listen to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” The talk serves as a reminder that it’s dangerous to make assumptions about groups of people based on single stories.
Public Radio International’s Jeb Sharp reports that the teachers also share stories about themselves to make their students feel safer. Students say they’ve found it helpful to talk about stereotypes and to tell new stories that change perceptions and preconceived notions.
“They write poems and essays in class exploring their identities and trying to grapple with who they are on the inside and how they’re perceived on the outside,” Sharp writes. “Tanzid Sakib moved to Cambridge from Bangladesh four years ago. His poem begins, ‘Just because I’m Bengali doesn’t mean I’m good at math.’ He says the assignment and the discussions about identity have helped him be more himself.
“‘I don’t want to be anyone else,’ he says. ‘I’m Tanzid. I don’t want to be like some other kid on the block. I’m proud of myself and where I’m from and how I am.'”
Ngozi Adichie’s talk has influenced many people throughout the years. Last year, the Dodge Foundation’s Josh Stearns wrote about how the talk has inspired his work.
“I spent most of the last decade organizing in local communities around media justice and digital rights,” Stearns writes. “Early on, I was holding a meeting at a community center on the south side of Chicago in advance of an upcoming Federal Communication Commission hearing on media consolidation. I asked everyone why they had come out that night, and one young man said, ‘Media is a life and death issue for me.”
He described how the media portrayed his community — only reporting about his neighborhood when there were shootings or violence — and how that single story shaped the way police, teachers and employers saw him and his friends.
At the time, four companies controlled more than half of Chicago local news. People of color owned only 5 percent of Chicago radio and TV stations even though they made up more than 40 percent of the population. No matter where he turned the dial, there was only one story being told about his community, and Stearns felt the weight of that story every day.
It’s important to tell a range of stories that capture the depth and nuances of a community. By painting a fuller picture of what’s happening in a community or in a person’s life, our stories can more accurately reflect the beauty and range of diversity.