A story can be told in many ways; what matters is who gets a chance to tell it.  At a seminar at the Asian College of Journalism recently, noted education theorists Bernardine Dohrn and William Ayers explored the ways in which multiple narratives find their place in the world, and the importance of challenging every narrative to make sure more voices are heard.

Who gets the microphone and becomes the voice that lasts longer has always been contested, Prof. Dohrn said. At the recent memorial for Nelson Mandela, the audience had a microphone themselves because they cheered for some leaders and booed at others. Prof. Dohrn is the founder of Children and Family Justice Centre in Northwestern University School of Law. Her husband and associate Prof. Ayers is an American elementary education theorist and a former leader of the counterculture movement that opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

“Mandela was on the US terrorist watchlist till 2008. After his death, he becomes this smiling, peacemaker and grandfatherly Gandhian who embraced his enemies,” Ms Dohrn said, talking about the contradictions in his ‘choreographed death.’ She noted the many narratives around Mandela - a de-politicised one, one critical of his alleged turn from socialism and another questioning his response to the campaign against HIV-AIDS. 

The recent SC order re-criminalising gay sex was an instance where voices need to be heard, she said. “Back in the US, we not only de-criminalised gay sex but also ended up deeming it unconstitutional to have laws against them; now there is a movement towards gay marriages Ms Dohrn said.

Prof. Ayers recalled times when he was considered controversial and universities, fearing safety problems, cancelled his talks, and said freedom of speech was inviolable. He advised journalists to verify claims made by governments rather than being their stenographers. He asked readers and viewers to be sceptical. 

“Journalists should accept that every government lies and it is important to find out why they are lying,” he said.

Children too, said Ms Dohrn, had every right to be heard. “There will be times when their judgment can be wrong, but that is the same with people of all age groups. They don’t need to be protected from reality, they are in reality,” she said.