Why teach U.S. students literature from different countries? This is the fundamental question at the heart of this encounter.
And now for something completely serious.
I've scooped and / or referenced the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TED talk, Danger of a Single Story frequently.
In this article a college professor explores the negative reaction to this talk by one of her students.
What is truly interesting is that she provides the student's articulation of the offense he or she took at Adichie's premise. The student built a case that the talk's subtext was "anti-white." And then she provides her response.
Both are well-written in the sense that the vocabulary, sentence structure, and sharp focus upon their essential thesis statements are solid. Each relies upon building a case with extensive evidence.
And yet, after watching the speech and reading both the student's argument and the professor's rebuttal, I can not find a way to "agree to disagree." I would give the student credit for having made a sincere though flawed effort and for taking the risk to do so. But, I can not accept the student's core thesis. Beneath the quality wordsmanship, the argument does not float. Once the argument is made, there's no doubt that the student relies heavily upon his or her own preconceived notions that any critique made against his or her beliefs is a critique of all Caucasians. And once that false default assumption becomes the basis of criticism, it is apparently considered to be a viable argument that since there are philanthropic examples of Caucasian behavior that "all Caucasians" are being unfairly criticized. The argument that "some people" are imperfect and might do well to do some introspection lost on the student.
Had the student first conceded that there was no criticism directed at "all white people," and recognized that the argument was directed at ANYONE who only knows a single story about another group beside their own, there might have been a recognition that we are all imperfect in spite of the many good things we or others in our "group" may have done. That the good that others have done has no bearing upon whether we as individuals, individuals of any color, culture, gender, sexual preference, political, religious, or traditional practice might have some introspection to do when it comes to understanding others.
And on the ocassions, rare or otherwise, when we can't or won't look past our own default assumptions that we might need to revisit our opinions and understandings, too many of us are liable to fall victim to those of us who would control the stories we do hear. And it is then that we find ourselves acting on the assumptions that we could not be wrong about our beliefs ...
• that all Muslims are terrorist who believe that Islam teaching are violent
• that all media and money is controlled by Jews
• that all liberals are un-American
• that all conservatives are greedy
I'll let you fill in the rest...
• that all women are ________
• that all men are ________
• that all priests are _________
• that all non-procreative intimacy is __________
• that all television is ____________
• that all politicians are ____________
• that all beliefs other than my own are _________
• that all __________ are _________
Does one story prove that paper-based reading is vastly superior to digital reading? Or the reverse?
Multiculturalism and Global Awareness appear in BIG letters in Wordles made from works of 21st century educational reform.
In large part the Google Lit Trips project embraces the value of journeying beyond one's small corner of the world. As Atticus Finch went away to college Aunt Alexandra never left the landing; while Huck Finn left St. Petersburg and learned while Tom Sawyer stayed in St. Petersburg, leading Huck to realize that he had learned too much to go back to St. Peterburg with Tom who had learned virtually nothing about the cruelty of his society's default prejudices; and while readers read stories that allow them to virtually travel to towns, cultures, and countries far beyond their own, they're understanding broadens.
Xenophobia is challenged, egocentricism is perceived and in recognizing as an embarrassment that we "should have felt" before we discovered that all those Polish, blonde, Jew, Muslim, and gay jokes were much more hurtful than hilarious and that perhaps our individual points of view are neither at the center of the universe nor sufficiently well-informed to be considered incontrovertible trump cards in the game of life.
"Google Lit Trips" is the official business name of GLT Global ED, an educational nonprofit