Inclusive Pedagogy and Bias

Fostering an inclusive environment is essential for creating a functional learning environment. Interacting with people from different walks of life only enhances our experience. Unfortunately, studies have shown that even young children are prone to unconscious bias against those who are different from themselves, and it’s not something that improves with age. The key is to be aware of our biases or the potential for bias. No matter how hard we try, bias can insidiously creep into our thought processes. This can prevent us from seeing the whole picture or from coming up with creative solutions to problems. They key is to be aware of this “hidden brain,” and to try to get out of autopilot mode. Last semester in our intro to the future professoriate course, we discussed the following riddle  which illustrates this point well:

“A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, ‘I can’t operate—that boy is my son!’ Explain.”

People came up with all sorts of explanations for this, such as maybe the “father” was a priest, but overlooked one explanation. The surgeon was the boy’s mother! This was a group of people who prided themselves on avoiding bias, but even they had fallen for this riddle. This phenomenon has serious repercussions in the real world. Only by actively working on our biases will we improve in this area.

2 thoughts on “Inclusive Pedagogy and Bias”

  1. Nice post! My favorite part about that riddle is how much faster kids today get the point. It’s great to see that kids are overcoming (at least some of) the unconscious biases that we had when we were young (e.g. it’s not crazy to think of a woman surgeon). I know the Vedantam piece we read still mentioned that even kids have unconscious bias in some cases, but this PFP experience makes me think we’ve made *some* progress. And that’s a start.

  2. I also feel that there has been some progress made in this area and I think part of that progress is due to the environment kids are raised in now. I grew up with both of my parents working and I feel like on a weekly basis that we were told by our grade school teachers that any of us, regardless of race or gender, could do whatever we wanted when we got older. So, I never really thought that someone couldn’t do a job based on race or gender. But, I still unconsciously make assumptions about what type of person does different types of jobs because of the people I have meet in my life that do those jobs or through what I have seen in the media. I try to force myself to not jump straight to a biased assumption right away though.

    I’m hoping that over the next few years more people become aware of unconscious bias and the riddle like you provided will become a thing of the past and people will instantly know that the surgeon is the boy’s mother.

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