Health & Education

Tribal Education staff presents 'single story' training in Willamina

12.14.2015 Brent Merrill Education

WILLAMINA -- A single story is not the only story.

Tribal Education Department Curriculum Specialist Mercedes Reeves, Family Services Coordinator Audra Sherwood and Family Services Coordinator Assistant Elaine Lane met with teachers and administrators from the Willamina School District at Willamina High School on Wednesday, Dec. 2, in the school cafeteria to provide a “single story” training.

The training was aimed at reminding educators that every child has more than a single story.

“This training will bring attention to the single stories that many of our youth bring along with them in each grade level as they journey through their education,” Sherwood said. “The training will demonstrate how the single story can be dangerous and detrimental to our youth, families and our culture as a Tribe.”

Reeves provided Willamina teachers and administrators with a video she had seen while attending graduate school at the University of Oregon. She said she was attending a multi-cultural literacy class when she watched the video for the first time.

The video was a TED Talk given by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The point of her talk was that people make the mistake of assuming people have only a single story. Adichie said people’s lives and cultures are made up of many overlapping stories.

TED is a nonprofit organization established in 1984 that is devoted to spreading ideas through informative talks. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

 In the video, Adichie spoke of her own experiences with a single story and told how those experiences shaped her viewpoints at a young age and became the way she saw the world as well. Adichie said that if you show someone as just one thing and you do it over and over, they become that thing.

“All of these experiences make me who I am,” said Adichie. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Adichie said having a single story viewpoint causes disassociation rather than highlighting commonalities in people.

“The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity,” said Adichie. “It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

Almost 100 Willamina elementary, middle and high school teachers gathered for the training. After watching Adichie’s TED Talk, teachers broke into small groups to discuss the video and answer questions provided by the Tribe’s education staff.

Teachers were asked what the single story of the Willamina School District was. They were asked if the materials they were using in their classrooms were biased in any way. Teachers were asked if they had been the victim of a single story and if they had a single story viewpoint of others at any time during their education careers.

One teacher shared the story of a student that she knew who would fail not only in her classroom, but in life. The teacher described a nightmare scenario in which the child had no real chance at a good life because of her situation at home and her behaviors caused by her home life. The teacher talked about having to pretend to have a bright outlook for this student.

“I remember thinking I had to fake being hopeful for her because in real life I had no hope for her,” the teacher said. “I thought I knew her story. I just thought I knew it.”

The teacher then shared how years after having this child as a student she saw her again as a young adult.

“Here was this glamorous, tall, well-dressed person and she’s beautiful,” the teacher said. “She had a beautiful child and she had beautiful clothes, and she had just maximized everything she could do and her story wasn’t at all what I had thought. I was wrong. We need to remember that and not think we know the rest of the story that we don’t know.”  

Willamina Middle and High School Principal Tim France said he saw the video before it was shown to teachers.

France said he believes that it is “human nature” to have preconceived notions of people and that talking about the subject is a good reminder to take off the “lenses” that everyone uses when making judgments.

France said he hopes the training will refresh everybody’s effort to get to know students before thinking they know their whole story.

“This is what we are here for,” said France. “We really need to make sure that we are helping kids to get to where they need to be.”

Sherwood, whose children are Tribal members, said the training with teachers in Willamina was a “follow-up” to a collaborative project the groups worked on in August.

“This is an effort to get people to work together for the betterment of our children,” Sherwood said. “It’s about perspective and how you see others. Are you teaching everybody’s story?”

Reeves said it is her goal and the goal of her program to partner with the local school districts, Willamina School District in particular.

“We’re trying to make it a partnership and have that relationship with them,” Reeves said of the teaching staff at the Willamina schools.

“There is that beautiful part of Willamina schools that we don’t always see or that isn’t always portrayed,” Sherwood said. “I think today, why we chose this training was because we really wanted them (Willamina school teachers) to reflect on that, on have you been a victim of the single story? Or has the single story been something you’ve done to someone else? It was just really a lot of reflection.”

Reeves said the goal of the single story training wasn’t to try to teach the education staff something, but more as a reminder.

“If they walked away thinking about something differently or having a different perspective about something, I was happy,” Reeves said.

Sherwood said she related to the video and felt the message of Adichie’s talk was universal in its application.

“I thought of our families and that there is so much more to them than anybody ever knows,” Sherwood said. “If you go to a powwow or a gathering and you see the beautiful regalia and the beadwork and the woven baskets and the hats and you just think ‘They love it.’ It’s their passion.

“So part of bringing the curriculum into a different perspective is to see that these families have a lot to offer. There is a culture in everybody’s family. Watching that video really brought that phase home for me.”

Reeves said the work they are doing with the school district is paying off in better communication.

“We have teachers that are very interested in knowing more about their students and more about their families,” Sherwood said. “I think just having that connection to each other to build a better community as a whole is going to make our community stronger. One of the things I have found with teachers is they don’t want to be inaccurate. They want to make sure that what they are teaching and what they are giving the families is culturally accurate and sensitive to the children’s needs. Hopefully things like this make people become more aware.”