Ben Maddison, Assistant Headteacher at The Fulham Boys School, writes…
Before you scan this text any further, I want you to close your eyes and imagine a 14–year-old boy in Nigeria. Done it? Ok. What did you see?
Many of my Y9 students saw a boy in bright sunlight, with torn western clothes. Pushed further they could tell me that he was on his way to collect water. His father had died from AIDS and he does not go to school. He is very poor and he plays football with a ball made from plastic bags and string.
Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls this the single story. It is the symptom of a number of ethical ailments that contribute towards the skewed vision that many of us tell ourselves is a truth about the world. It is a truth of course. But logic dictates that it cannot be the whole truth. Is it an unhelpful truth? After all, this is the image that inspires us to give to charities. Perhaps it is a useful stereotype?
Look at the drawing. What do you see? Is it a duck or a rabbit? Perhaps you see both, or neither. It is not a bold philosophical claim that we can never see the world as it truly is, only what our brains mediate to be the reality. We see as.
I see as a middle-class man from Essex, a Westerner, a teacher. We can never detach ourselves entirely and see objectively. If we could, then maybe an unjust verdict would never be passed down by a court. Is my sense of justice ‘true’?
We can never detach ourselves entirely and see objectively – but scepticism might lead us to paralysing inaction
Should we then be sceptical about the world, and never act at all, for fear of asserting something that is not the case? Sextus Empiricus’ take on scepticism might lead us to paralysing inaction and to assert as Homer Simpson does in ‘Homer the Heretic’:
“What’s the big deal about going to some building every Sunday? I mean, isn’t God everywhere? And don’t you think the almighty has better things to worry about than where one little guy spends one measly hour of his week? And what if we pick the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder.”
Are you feeling a little guilty? Maybe fearful as well? The problems of the world are so big. Have you seen the North Pacific Gyre/ Rubbish dump? I can’t do anything about that!
As a teacher and as a human I have, on the whole, sought to perceive and represent the world as a place of complexity and nuance. But sometimes there just wasn’t enough time. ”Yes,” I said, ”Catholics don’t approve of contraception” (knowing full well that a YouGov poll of UK Catholics suggests that fewer than 4% disapprove). But wasn’t that the single story needed to help this particular student score exam points?
We must tackle the ‘single story’, and deliver lessons that have greater integrity in the way they represent the world beyond the classroom walls
I have recently persuaded my school to sign up to the Global Learning Programme (GLP). Numeracy and literacy undoubtedly are a glue that create links across the curriculum. And they are authentic. But the GLP offers something different. It is a government-funded scheme that aims to tackle the single story, and to help schools connect across communities to deliver lessons that have greater integrity in the way they represent the world beyond the classroom walls.
We have elected to become an ‘expert centre’ – a kind of hub school – meaning that we will seek to build a network of schools in our area and work together to improve the teaching and learning on global learning and global issues. Joining the programme represents a commitment to change. It is a commitment to help our students to become globally responsible citizens. Don’t we do a lot of this already? Yeah, sometimes. Does it need to be better? Absolutely.
Mark the first anniversary of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development by using the free teaching resource provided by the Global Learning Programme (GLP). Together with the materials provided by the World’s Largest Lesson, this resource will help you engage your pupils by teaching them about the Global Goals, and more specifically, Goal 5 for gender equality.