ECS 203

The Problem with the Single Story

Whether or not we realize it, everyone is exposed to single stories throughout their schooling. This is mainly due to a lack of diverse representation in many aspects of learning. Sadly, it often seems as though only the stories of white heterosexual male characters matter, since I think everyone can agree we read a countless number of different stories with characters who fit this description. Just the fact that most high school students spend at least a couple months every year reading Shakespeare proves this to be true. While there may have been one or two stories with a main character who was female, a person of colour, neurodivergent, gender diverse, or sexually diverse, we may have only heard a single story about them.

I was taught many single stories in school. One that specifically comes to mind is the single story I was taught about Indigenous people. Throughout elementary school, we learned about some Indigenous ways of life and the fur trade in Social Studies class. However, Indigenous people were always spoken of as a single group. As dumb as it sounds, it wasn’t until high school that I came to understand that there are vast differences between the beliefs, traditions, languages, cultural practices, and ways of life of Indigenous people across Canada. Looking back on it now, it sounds ridiculous that I could have thought people living in completely different climates with different resources and wildlife would all live the same way and hold the same beliefs, but this just demonstrates the true power, and danger, of the single story.

Teaching only a single story about someone or something can often create unconscious biases that may be difficult to unlearn. This is why it is so incredibly important that I, as an educator, do my very best to ensure I am never teaching my students a single story. In order to work against these biases, we need to make a conscious effort to include many different stories of many different people. While diversity and representation in the classroom is a great thing, only reading one diverse book may actually cause more harm than good due to the biases it could create. For example, if you only read one book that includes a homosexual character and that character just happens to be an actor, your students may assume all homosexual people are interested in the performing arts. As I’m sure you can imagine, these biases can become really problematic. By simply including more representation of different sexually diverse individuals or characters, students would not have learned this single story.

One Comment

  • Bill Armstrong

    This is a good reason for things like student exchanges and travel, where people can observe and learn about how other people live their lives.

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