It is no hidden fact that we judge people based on our impressions of them. We tend to classify them of being of a certain “type” / “fit”. However, what is of deeper concern is that these ideas are so-inbuilt in us that we often resort to them even at an unconscious level.
We have often heard phrases like “Indians are …”, “Chinese do …”, or “Southerners have …” and so on and so forth. These are just excerpts of a deeper train of thought which runs in people. As Shankar Vedantam puts it in his article The Hidden Brain, “the mind is hard-wired to form associations between people and concepts.” What is more interesting to note (and disconcerting as well) is that these notions are not “biologically based” but that they have been imposed on us through “culture” and “upbringing”. The discriminations on the basis of gender, skin color, religion, sexual orientation are just the manifestations of this inherent thought process. Moreover, these kinds of biases are the hardest to overcome, as they require both conscious effort as well as perseverance, over an extended period of time, and even then success is not always guaranteed.
For those of us who aspire to be teachers in the 21st century it is all the more important that we understand these “stereotypical” ideas that our students will have and devise means to overcome/counter them. Students usually ask their immediate seniors, faculty advisors or mentors regarding the courses that they should take in the upcoming semesters and about the professors that will teach those courses. So, even before they attend the first class, they would have formed an opinion of us based on what others think of us.
To conclude, I feel that we have to be aware of both the conscious as well as the (especially) unconscious responses that we exhibit both in and out of the class, as they will go on to form an “opinion” of us in the minds of students and colleagues alike, for years to come. It is therefore my firm belief that in order to keep a class of 21st century learners together, it is not only necessary to captivate their minds with our teaching, it is also our “duty” as learner-focused educators to recognize/address the diversity present in our class very early and respect it throughout the duration of the course.