AP Literature MISO (Media, Interview, Survey, Observation) Venture

The Danger of a Single Story II

by Isabella, Alice and Samuel

 

This fall, our AP Literature class read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. This literary journey revealed more about the Congo than we ever thought was possible. Unsettled by the historical and ongoing atrocities in the Congo, we set out to conduct our research and action project.

Our central research question was: How can we make people care about colonialism and neo-colonialism in the Congo (and Africa at large)? In order to explore this question, we employed the MISO method — which stands for media, interviews, surveys, and observations — to conduct our action research.

     The Lavenders worked alongside Kenyan Maasai leader Daniel Ketukei to 

     help improve the educational circumstances of rural Maasai children.

In our interviews of Concordia faculty, parents, and high school students, we found a great lack of knowledge about Africa and specifically the Congo. Many students had no idea of where the Congo is located and one faculty member admitted, “I hate to say this, but Africa is the continent I think least about.” Other interviewees and survey responses showed similar results, probably because many Concordians have not had the chance to travel to any African countries and have spent the majority of their lives in North America and East Asia.

In conjunction with the research we were doing, we watched a TED Talk in one of our AP Lit classes called “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Adichie. Adichie is a Nigerian writer who has authored many famous books. In her TED Talk, she advocates against simplifying the story of a place/culture into one idea or truth. She believes having a single story of any group of people is dangerous and limited, and she advocates for thinking in more complex and multi-layered ways about all humans and all places. 

When we went back through our research, we found strong ties between our results and Adichie’s ideas. Many interviewees were starting with a single story of Africa, probably shaped by the media. That single story often involved negative aspects such as poverty, disease and violence, and did not include perspectives on rich cultures and histories. An idea started to form in our minds for our action project. We began to reach out to Concordia faculty members to investigate examples of the single story in relation to a variety of African contexts. We contacted Mr. Andre De Koker, a Concordia middle school teacher who is from South Africa and who also lived in Ethiopia for some time. We also reached out to Mr. and Mrs. Lavender, Concordia high school teachers, who lived in Kenya before moving to Shanghai. 

 

 

 

Teaching our lesson with grade 7 RSB (Reflective Spiritual Beings) students. 

Mr. Lavender provided a few rich stories about his stay in Kenya and how these did not fit into a single story of that country. 

“When cross-cultural experiences happen well, it feels like an exchange,” he said, recalling a partnership with a Maasai leader, Daniel Ketukei, and a community school near Amboseli National Park. 

Mr. Lavender also told us about a boy named Fredrick. He met Fredrick selling peanuts on the streets in Nairobi to pay for his school tuition fees. After getting to know Fredrick, the Lavenders worked alongside his family to support his school fees, and Fredrick was able to focus on studying. He ended up getting a scholarship to a residential high school which led to employment at a company that values him greatly, paying for his college-level computer training course.

We engaged in a meaningful conversation with Mr. De Koker about aid and how providing money for development projects can either be done in an unsustainable or sustainable way. Much of the problems that persist in unsustainable development work stem from assumptions people make about the people they are trying to serve (again, the danger of a single story). 

With the seventh grade students, we played a simulation to demonstrate what we learned about aid and sustainable development. 

“They’ve already learned about the UN SDGs (sustainable development goals), and this is right in line with that,” Mrs. Turner said after the presentation. 

We hope our lesson was able to supplement the 7th graders in their learning journey to become more active global citizens. 

In the way we’ve calibrated our message, we hope to shift away from such well-meaning but ineffective tactics, and get to the root of the problem: a lack of exposure to rich, nuanced stories about Africa that allow individuals to see beyond a single story and to understand the commonalities among all humans on the planet.


 

Samuel, Isabella and Alice are senior students taking AP Literature & Composition at Concordia International School Shanghai.