Chimamanda Adichie on "The danger of a single story"

Last year, I included Chimamanda Adichie’s provocative short-story collection The Thing Around Your Neck in my AP Composition and Literature course reading list. As an introduction to the writer’s concerns and themes, we watched her TED talk, “The danger of a single story,” which I recommend to all students and teachers who want to fortify themselves against the habit of drawing conclusions too soon.

While listening to Adichie’s pointed words, it occurred to me that I have too often relied on “single stories” myself—single versions (at best!) for my knowledge of African & Asian politics, say, or of other topics I think I know, like global climate policy or even my students’ lives. In particular, Adichie’s observations prompted me to reflect on my own limited travels in pursuit of “multiple stories”—how they began with my hillbilly rube’s ambition to “see the grand sights” (as in Western Europe) and evolved into more deliberate efforts to find multiple versions of the single versions I’d learned from popular sources (as I was able to do in Turkey, Jordan, Israel, and the Occupied Territories).

Twenty years ago, I declared that discovering “multiple versions” in all 24 time zones would occupy the second half of my life; but then the real costs of travel—carbon, inequity—became more obvious, and I’ve had to rethink my privilege and responsibility as a traveler. In many ways, my application to Fulbright’s Teachers for Global Classrooms program was an attempt to make my travels more purposeful—to support my craving for “other versions” in a deeper, more deliberate, and ultimately more ethical way.

(And I’m relieved to learn that there’s a pedagogical category for my craving called “Global Competence”….)