Growing up in rural Saskatchewan in a white working-class family has had a lot to do with who I am today and how I read the world. Most of my upbringing was very positive. I learned to place value in kindness, hard work, and the importance of community, among many other things. My upbringing, unfortunately, also contributed to certain prejudices and negative biases that tainted the way I read the world. There was little diversity to speak of in my community thus, I was at the mercy of a single, very eurocentric narrative. This narrative was often filled with racist, sexist, and homophobic language. Oftentimes the overall message of this was to be different was to be wrong. Though I know this language is wrong, I still catch myself subconsciously engaging in it. For example, I often catch myself paying more attention to what a white male has to say in a conversation versus a white female, even though they have a similar education and social status. These biases will unfortunately undeniably contribute to what I teach, consciously or not, in my future classroom.
Within my schooling experience I also experienced a similar single story narrative. This narrative was based on the perspective of older white men. Their views dominated almost everywhere. They wrote much of the curriculum me and my peers were taught, authored many of our assigned books, and held leadership positions within my school division. Most of these men had good intentions and worked hard to better our educational experience, but the impact of their dominating presence was, nonetheless, dangerous. As Chimamanda Adichie mentioned in her talk The Danger of a Single Story, “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.” This, in essence, is the danger of the single narrative I experienced. Their truths and perspectives were equally as important to others, yet few others had the opportunity to present or learn their own and others truths.
As a consequence of this single narrative I grew to have a false sense of truth in the world. I saw that typically only men held positions of power and notoriety, such as author, principal, Minister of Education, CEO, Prime minister, etc. I never used to wonder why I only saw men in positions like these, but simply accepted that they were, perhaps, better suited for them. However, as I grew up and learned about the injustices of the world I realized this was not the case. I learned that men, typically white middle-aged men, simply had obtained unearned privilege that boosted their social status and allowed them an easier path to these positions of power. This is only one example of my personal experiences with the danger of a single narrative, but one of the dangers that the narrative of my background and schooling experience enabled me to resonate with the most.
The silver lining of my own experience with the single story narrative, and the prejudices and biases they invoked, was that I was able to unlearn them. This was done through education by addressing such topics. For me this education was simply my primary and secondary education, but I believe the same effects can be had through travel and doing your own research. I believe the true power of education is the ability to gain new perspectives. These perspectives allow us to see more than the single story narrative that dominates our own life.
As a future English teacher it’s important to me to introduce different narratives through literature. The reading Against Common Sense by Kumashiro states that “[w]hen students read literature by only certain groups of people, they learn about only certain experiences and perspectives, especially those of groups that have been privileged in society (such as White middle-class men).” Thus, in my own future classroom, I will put a focus on implementing books written by a diverse group of authors. that offer a multitude of perspectives to help combat biases and prejudices.
- Adichie, Chimamanda. “The Danger of a Single Story.” TED. July. 2009. Lecture
- Kumashiro, Kevin. “Preparing Teachers For Crisis: A Sample Lesson.” Against Common Sense. Routledge: London, 2009. 19-33. online