Loss of Control = Terrifying

We have talked so much about how important it is that students feel comfortable in a class room to create a good learning environment.  It’s clear that there is no room for bigotry, racism, or any prejudice of any kind.  It’s important to treat everyone fairly in the classroom (and obviously everywhere else too).  I’m sure no one in this class would never knowingly treat someone differently because of some physical trait or belief.

It is therefore terrifying to know that we all already have prejudice as a result of the culture we have grown up in.  Even 3 year olds have preconceived ideas of people based on what that person looks like or believes.  So even if we have the best of intentions, we may not have 100% control over how we treat our peers, colleagues, and most importantly, our students.   This is terrifying.  We have an obligation as teachers to not do something that we may not have control over, and can have a huge impact on someone’s future.  Also, since the teacher-student relationship is one in which the teacher has power over the student, its scary to throw bias into such a relationship since the student has little power in the situation.

So how do you prevent this from happening?  Can you limit the times you treat someone unfairly to nothing?  I’m not sure.  But I think the best way to minimize the impact of your limitations is to be aware of those limitations.  Then maybe you can stay off of autopilot when it comes to something as important as treating students fairly.

Category(s): GEDI

18 Responses to Loss of Control = Terrifying

  1. Ayesha’s blog answers your question pretty well (http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/yousafzai/2015/10/12/know-your-biases/). I think that you’re spot on when you say awareness is key. Also, keeping yourself educated is important too – educate yourself on the needs of others that you might not have considered (privilege). Smilie: :)

    • Thanks for pointing out Ayesha’s post! Good point about educating yourself on the needs of others, you could definitely see that hopefully cutting down on unintended biases.

  2. I think you raise a great question ! I agree that self awareness/reflection is really important and this should be a constant process. I really believe that there is no way we can ever have 100 % control over anything or prevent anything completely. I think what is more important is what we do as a result of certain biases or prejudices when they happen.

  3. I think you make a great point here about how we may not have complete control thanks to hidden biases. This is terrifying – you’re right! And I wonder if we are even aware of these instances, or if it would take a truly awkward encounter with a student or classmate to make us think twice about what we may have said and how it could have been taken. As a teacher, we definitely don’t want to inject biases into our relationships with our students, as that would make the learning environment uncomfortable for everyone.

    • I’d really hope that it wouldn’t take a truly awkward encounter… I would hope that being attentive to the reaction you get from people would tip you off before running smack into an awkward encounter.

    Debarati Basu says:

    I agree with all of you here. We, as teachers must carefully word things when we are saying something and we also need to be careful about how a person feels if I tell something. Being aware of such situations can help to self-reflect and thus avoid situations that we do not want to happen.

    Kristine Cantin says:

    Thank you for the questions this blog post provokes. I agree; I do not think there is a way to eliminate this. I do believe that with both exposure and self-reflection, we can mitigate our bias. I think that through linking individuals to a certain trait instead of an entire group, generalizations are less likely to be made, and bias less likely to be formed. I believe getting to know friends of all different beliefs and physical traits from an early age can assist with this. I also believe that acknowledging where we may quickly depend on heuristics is important, in order to at least address and figure out how to handle resulting consequences.

  4. Thank you for sharing! Thank you for sharing! You raise valid questions, but I believe it aids to some extent if the teacher is aware of their own hidden biases, cultural assumptions, and stereotypes that possibly could impede learning, and contingent upon the age of students, it can be advantageous to have an open dialog about sensitive topics. I like to think of it as, we don’t always have to agree, but the key is being respectful and valuing other people’s thoughts and opinions as well as including everyone within that course community.

    Ultimately, I don’t think hidden biases are controlled 100%, because actions are done unconsciously to some extent, but being aware, open, and optimistic aids in moderating those biases. Create an environment where each student has a shared input on the expectations, roles, rules, and responsibilities within the course community, which provides him or her with ownership, self-regulation, and autonomy over what and how they learn.

  5. Thanks for sharing!

    My two cents are:

    Like you said awareness is the most important thing, although is really difficult. It takes a lot of time to force yourself to always be aware and think and re-think everything you say to make sure you are being as neutral as possible. The second part of it is to never make any assumptions about your students. We need to always ask them about what makes them feel comfortable/uncomfortable.

  6. You raised a lot of good points and questions. I agree that knowing your limitations is a good way to minimize unfairness. However, sometimes, it is difficult to know what your limitations are and you don’t know when something isn’t right until it is too late. I think in addition to knowing your limitations, you need to do the little things. It’s small actions in classroom that can produce an inclusive environment. You won’t always be able to fight the major issues, but you can treat students with respect and acknowledge your shortcomings. Sometimes when you do just the smallest act, you can create a sense of inclusion that becomes come thing bigger.

  7. Growing up, I always aged very slow (given the average assumed age, I look roughly 6 to 7 years younger than I am, thus people my age or older don’t take me seriously) and I’ve remained constantly the same level of ADHD (a disorder a large percentage of people believe doesn’t exist). Both of these have been a curse in social and academic settings. Although I’ve come this far not allowing critics to get the best of me, I still admit that its upsetting when Im treated a certain way for traits I have no control over. People should be aware of potential limitations in others, but ultimately we should be aware of our own in order to better handle others. There’s a quote in the bible that roughly says that before identifying the spec in the another person’s eye, remove the block from your own.

  8. I think the points brought up in your post as well as in the comments are definitely true. Being aware of our biases as a teacher is extremely important and trying our best to not offend should be our goal (this goes for outside the classroom as well, I would hope) no matter how difficult. But, I also think emphasis should be put on the student to not assume what is being said is meant to be offensive (unless it was meant to be offensive, in which case then this doesn’t apply). I think a good way to try and prevent any issues from arising would be to preface any lecture/discussion with a sincere apology that if anything does come off as offensive that it is due to a bias that you are trying to see, but is difficult to see based on your past, and to have them bring it to your attention so that you can learn from it. So, that would require someone listening to a) not jump to the conclusion that you are a jerk, and b) realize that they have their own unconscious biases that may not be so obvious.

    • I’m kind of scared of the idea that keeps coming up about being straight forward with students about our limitations.. It seems awkward to stand up in front of a class and be like, “hey guys, I may be prejudice against some of you and not even know it.”

      But I like your idea of making it more about open communication and offensive actions in general. More like, “hey guys, I’m not trying to be a jerk so if I do something that makes you uncomfortable please TELL ME.”

  9. Great questions. I think it is very important to be attentive and considerate when dealing with anybody else, otherwise we are bound to unknowingly hurt somebody (and not necessarily due to our own ‘fault’Smilie: ;). Conversely, I also feel like it’s important for the student to speak up if something like this happens, and they need to be encouraged to do so. Unfortunately, this is not the reality in most classrooms.

  10. I agree that we can’t reduce our bias to nothing. I also feel like ‘principles of community’ should be encouraged on one hand and tolerance on the other. We should know that people are going to be biased and we should learn to not make a big deal (if we can). A lot of times, universities in their quest to reduce bias resort to censorship which results is a perceptible fear of offending people.

  11. Good points. I agree we need to be vigilant when it comes to our own treatment of students. It seems that you are almost regaining your control by being aware of your own capacities for prejudice rather than blindly telling yourself that you are incapable of such actions.

    yanliang4yang says:

    Thanks for brought up the issue of our own limitation. However, sometimes I find it hard to balance to between confidence and awareness of our limitation. To tackle with this problem, it goes back to our previous discussion about authentic teaching. Being yourself. Realize our human limitation and at the same time deal with it. As akin01 says, we can not reduce our limitation to zero, but a good and friendly community will be helpful to that.

  12. Reflecting on your own bias is likely a great first step into taking back control from the autopilot. It seems like it would be another form of feedback that can help shape your awareness and help to make you mindful of the needs of others. Thanks for bringing up your own fear, it probably gave the chance for someone else to begin to reflect on their own.

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