10. Swinging with a Double-Edged Sword: Using Counterstories to Fight for Social Justice in the Classroom
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IV. Classroom Practices of Reflection and Counternarratives 177 10 Swinging with a Double-Edged Sword: Using Counterstories to Fight for Social Justice in the Classroom Scott D. Farver and Alyssa Hadley Dunn Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity. —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009) On the first day of class, we watched “The Danger of a Single Story,” a highly regarded TED Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie (2009). Its overarching themes of combatting stereotypes and recognizing multiple voices set the stage for our overall course, which focused on examining issues of power, privilege, and oppression in K-12 schools and society. After watching, we did a “chalk talk,” a silent activity where students compiled their reflections on the board in words, phrases, or images. They drew arrows or check marks to indicate agreement or connection with other people’s ideas. This “conversation” lasted for about five minutes, with moments of silence when students stood back reading quietly and more “talkative” moments when multiple students were writing on the board at once. Finally, I asked students to read the entire board and share any portions that stood out to them. Five students picked the same comment: “I feel like people only know me by a single story. I want to be more than what the media says I am.” The author of the comment did not take ownership of the comment, nor did I ask the person to identify her- or himself. However, in a written reflection later, a student wrote: “It was me. I wrote the note about being a single story. I was so happy with the way people said they didn’t want me to feel that way and they 178 | Farver and Dunn wanted to hear what made me me beyond the stereotypes. I hope I have the courage to speak up throughout the semester to tell them. The fact that we started with this video makes me think I will be supported in developing that courage.” By providing a space for students to see beyond a single story—and by following this up throughout the semester with opportunities for students to share their own experiences in the form of counterstories—I hoped to model for them the importance of fighting for social justice both personally and professionally. This chapter underscores the importance of counterstorytelling as pedagogy and also the delicate nature of employing such a practice. The guiding question for this text is “How can the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) be used to make education a transformative experience for all learners and teachers?” As teacher educators, we take this call seriously in our work, which centers on issues of social justice and equity in education. The classes that we teach focus broadly on issues of diversity, power, privilege, oppression, and equity, including difficult and often controversial topics like race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, linguistic hegemony, immigration, religion, and (dis)ability. We believe strongly that our pedagogy has the potential to be transformative for our students and ourselves (hooks, 1994) as we evolve in our quest toward humanization through a constant state of becoming (Blackburn, 2014). That is, we do not believe we have reached some mirage of mastery in social justice education, but we realize that we, like our students, are constantly learning and growing from our lived experiences. We enter the conversation within the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning from a unique perspective. As mentioned in an earlier chapter, some scholars may see their roles as university teachers as secondary (or even a hindrance) to what they may consider to be their “real” work of research, particularly if they work at a research-intensive university. This balance is not to be taken lightly, especially when considering tenure and promotion requirements that may place significantly higher value on research and grant-getting than teaching. SoTL, though, challenges us not to view scholarship and teaching as mutually exclusive but rather as mutually supportive in order to best serve the students we teach. It is also a place for us as practitioners to reflect on previous theory and build on and add to that knowledge (Hutchings & Huber, 2008). Our work as former K–12 public school teachers and our current positions as teacher educators, or those who prepare the next generation of K–12 teachers, allows...