Blog #4: Thoughts on critical race theory in schools

For my fourth and final post this semester, I’ll focus on a more controversial topic than I’ve covered thus far. I recently saw this video on The Daily Show, and it serves as an illustration of my ongoing perplexity surrounding critical race theory: namely, why some people are so staunchly opposed to teaching it in schools. Given that schools are meant to teach students US history and social studies, schools seem (at least to me) an appropriate place to teach critical race theory, which is a discussion on the role of race in US institutions and vice versa. And yes, race has played a role in this country’s development, and this country’s institutions have and do recognize race.

So why all the controversy? Well, the video shows one answer – lack of knowledge. But how can people get so upset over something they don’t know about? And a memory came up while watching this video that made me realize that the name alone including “race” is enough to get people riled up.

I remembered a few years ago I said something to a (older) family member that referred to us being white, and she got offended. I was surprised and taken aback. We are white. That is a factual, neutral statement. But this older family member viewed even the acknowledgement of our race, despite its neutral context, to be a non-neutral, charged thing. I think she developed that perspective due to her upbringing in the “colorblind” days, when race was actively unacknowledged. Because of its taboo nature, I speculate that race became a charged, emotional topic no matter the context. And so you end up with people who oppose discussions of critical race theory simply based on their very nature – discussions involving race.

But race should not be taboo. We live with it, ever-present. It is on our skin – just as it is in our institutions, our history, our development as a nation and as people. So if teaching critical race theory in schools (albeit, teaching it well) opens up conversations and can thereby help people to acknowledge reality, then I think it is beneficial.

Blog #3: Environmental influence on self-perceptions

I was raised in a Jewish household and attended a Jewish day school during my elementary school years. I learned to appreciate Jewish teachings and culture. In fact, the constant advocacy for further education that I experienced throughout my childhood likely influenced my decision to attend graduate school.

However, those lessons are not the focus of this post. This week I had the provocative experience of speaking with a Jewish person who continually perpetuated stereotypes and views of Jews that are recognized as antisemitic. He made sweeping assumptions and generalizations that were often condescending as well as factually incorrect. He also continually tokenized himself as others might tokenize their “Black friend” to push an agenda, perpetuating a practice known to be harmful – albeit ironically so.

Having this experience reminded me of Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s influential study that tested Black children’s self-perceptions. The researchers presented Black children with both dolls that were Black and dolls that were White. They allowed the children to choose which doll to play with and asked them to identify which dolls were “nice,” for example. The children overwhelmingly chose the White dolls over the Black and labeled them with the better descriptors, while also selecting the Black dolls as being more like them. This study illustrated the detrimental impact of the media and society’s negatively biased portrayal of Black members of the population on children’s self-perceptions, as well as how early their views were influenced.

Growing up in a supportive Jewish community, I had never connected the lessons from the Clarks’ study to a minority group with which I myself identity. This experience served as a reminder that other people grew up in environments extremely different than mine and how much those differences can shape a person’s view of the world. As a psychologist, I constantly incorporate individual differences into my studies, but at some point doing so becomes habitual rather than intentional. While I was saddened by the impact that this person’s environment had on him, I needed the jarring reminder that the work done by psychologists has practical, concrete applications and deals with real people, real consequences, and unseen, deep-seated differences.

Blog 2: Shang Chi and Representation in the Media

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings introduced the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Asian superhero, tearing away from the traditional clichéd depictions of Asians in the media. This breakthrough comes just a few years after the first all-Asian rom com to make it in the mainstream media, Crazy Rich Asians. Asian Americans have celebrated these new movies. I even have an Asian American friend who bought out a theater in her predominantly white hometown to share the movie with her community. Meanwhile, much of white America has reacted to this passion with head scratches, not understanding why these movies are so meaningful to the Asian community. One answer lies in a phrase that may sound overused but holds a lot of meaning: Representation matters.

Society tends to uphold a myopic view of its minority members, interpreting people through a lens of stereotypes rather than as nuanced individuals. The media traditionally perpetuates these stereotypes, for example casting East Asians most often as scientists, doctors, or kung-fu underdogs to be rescued by a white savior. Over time, these stereotypes insidiously (or, more scientifically, implicitly) shape our expectations for and perceptions of members of those groups. In class, Dr. Lee gave us this riddle to illustrate the extent to which we have internalized certain prejudices. Its very label as a riddle shows that Americans (myself included) have internalized an image or schema of surgeons as heterosexual males.

Shang Chi, however, rejected traditional stereotypes of Asians (and in fact took care to do so). Instead, this movie depicted its Asian leads as running their own story, with universally relatable characteristics and struggles, and no white savior saving the day. It was a bad-a$$ movie, with bad-a$$ characters, who kicked a$$ — and happened to be Asian. Now, children of all races have an Asian superhero to look up to along with a broader, non-clichéd view of what being Asian can look like.

Blog Post 1: Standardized tests in hiring?

As the use of standardized tests for school admissions comes increasingly under fire for discrimination (even appearing in popular press articles like this 2019 Washington Post article), research about bias in hiring decisions may suggest a utility in standardized testing for hiring. A series of studies has shown that implicit bias can play a significant role in hiring decisions. For example, we discussed the Moss-Racusin et al. (2012) paper that showed that, holding all else equal, an applicant’s gender can affect whether they’re hired for a laboratory manager position and what salary they’re offered. Gender also influenced assessments of competence, which in turn impacted those hiring decisions. A number in the form of a standardized test score, however, carries the same meaning regardless of gender, race, social status, etc. While the hirer ‘s internal biases can still color their perception of that number, the test score still serves as a means of level comparison of applicants. Furthermore, unlike admissions tests which have a whole infrastructure surrounding them offering wealthier applicants easy means of preparing for and re-taking the tests moreso than other applicants, standardized tests for hiring are typically not so ubiquitous as to offer wealthier applicants such a large advantage. So, incorporation of standardized tests into the hiring process might be a way for organizations to combat hiring discrimination.

Intro Post

Hi everyone! I’m Tanya Mitropoulos (she/her), and I’m a graduate student in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. I hope to make a career for myself in research that focuses on employee recovery. I’m in Dr. Charles Calderwood’s Work Stress and Recovery lab, where I examine the workday’s impact on employee well-being in the context of commuting, teleworking, and the home after work. I also have strong interests in how an employee’s pets influence their recovery, along with a tendency to ruminate after work.

Outside of school and work, I have a wonderful husband who is also a grad student at Virginia Tech, in Mechanical Engineering. We have a precious goldendoodle named Francie, who we spoil as much as we can. We love hiking together and are very happy with our choice to spend grad school in beautiful Blacksburg!

To me, contemporary pedagogy means adapting one’s teaching style to current times. I’m grateful that a specific term for this phenomenon exists because teaching is a practice that has remained stubbornly resistant to change. In fact, it may be the most resistant to change of any everyday practice – after all, instructors commonly advocate for Socratic teaching methods, referencing a philosopher alive 2500 years ago! While I recognize the value in his methods, Socrates lived before the existence of paper. So needless to say, a lot has changed since then. A failure to incorporate modern advances into teaching strategies is a disservice to the most critical facilitator of progress, education. Fortunately the Flynn effect indicates that our education is improving, as average IQ goes up every decade. But with more incorporation of modern technology, we can improve even further. So I’m very glad that this class and professors like Dr. Murzi are encouraging us to think outside the lecture box and find newer, better ways to educate.

Technology and Agency (Critical Pedagogy post)

I’m going to go on a tangent for my critical pedagogy blog post, thanks to this video and interview of Henry Giroux dredging up considerations that I’ve been mulling over for the past few years. In this video, Giroux talks about the importance in education’s development of agency in children. In fact, he proclaims that the ultimate goal of education is the growth of agency, indicating that it might be the most important tool for children to develop – as I fully believe. Agency is what turns people into critical thinkers, leaders, the movers and shakers of the world. If you see a problem, agency is required to get up and change it. Agency is how progress happens.

Where my internal debate comes in, though, is the role of technology in enhancing agency. As Giroux addresses, technology gives children more power than they’ve ever had in developing their own agency. Almost every piece of knowledge that we have as a human race is available on the internet, and children have almost as much power as anyone else behind a computer to go get that knowledge. And they can do it autonomously.

However, not all knowledge is good to ingest, especially at a young age. As everyone knows, the worst of humanity is also available online. So I find myself debating how I would handle technology and specifically internet access if I had kids. If I could give them technology without social media, then I personally would feel less worried. But my feelings should not take precedence and practically speaking, this option might not be feasible. Social media is now the reality of the world, and we need to equip children to handle it and to build up their emotional intelligence in the face of our new reality.

Another concern of mine is the bias of content presented. This problem is worsening everyday, along with the ramifications it is having on …everything. Here, again, I think is an issue that is now embedded in current society, and so rather than trying to steer children away from bias, we might be obligated to expose them to it so that we can better educate them.

These issues also bring us back to the burgeoning importance of critical pedagogy, because the best way to combat the influence of bias and negativity faced by the next generations is critical thinking. Now more than ever, people need to know how to – and to – question what they hear. They need to recognize the psychological manipulation that can accompany education and learn to combat it. With problem-solving and processing skills fostered through strategies emphasized in critical pedagogy, I think we can help empower our next students to leverage technology while handling its consequences.

Digital Pedagogy (team blog post)

If not all educators are called to be pedagogues, then how do we hold (or expect to hold) educator’s accountable for sound pedagogical practices in a global environment where everyone is barely treading water? On the flip side of this coin (as if it’s really a coin), is the question of where the collaboration exists between campus pedagogues and educators? For all their filibustering about what digital pedagogy is not, I would argue Stommel and Morris don’t do a solid job of saying what digital pedagogy is – aside from this ethereal manifestation of co-constructed knowledge heralded by Eris than organization – or how collaboration can exist to begin filling in the schisms that exist between those that know, those that do and those that know and do. The current era, and times to come, there will never not be the option for online learning, so how about we begin educating educators on sound, digital, pedagogical approaches so both learners and educators get the most out of the platforms they are (for better or worse) existing upon?

Students in the classroom have different strengths and weaknesses, the use of digital tools can be a way to address those differences. It is within the professor’s responsibility to identify these differences among the learners and address and understand where students might be troubled. This is when digital pedagogies come in hand as they can be used to simplify and balance student’s abilities and focus on getting the feedback needed to improve the learning process.

One of the things our group chatted about was the need for an Incorporation of more studies related to people’s attention capacities online. Because we have all been forced into this online learning environment, more research ought to be done to look into the best easy to disseminate information to students and how they are retaining it. We’ve heard pieces of information here and there about how long videos should be, things to incorporate in a narrated presentation to increase engagement from the students and how to make online learning interactive. However, it would be both interesting and helpful to have data to support the comments in one location that all educators could pull from to aid in their online pedagogy.

Online instruction specialists would be a useful new field to develop too. Since research and practice are, at least preliminarily, indicating that learning happens in a different manner when done fully online, new tools and methods are needed to optimize teaching in this context. However, as many teachers are discovering with the forced rapid conversion to online educating, incorporating these tools into lessons takes time – enough to merit a full-time job. Schools with prior experience educating online are finding themselves at an advantage, being able to use the knowledge of1 employees already experienced in this context. If more schools invest in such professionals, then they too can get ahead in online education.

In the realm of digital pedagogy, efforts need to be made to encourage the accommodation of traditional and nontraditional students. One benefit of online teaching and MOOCs is the ability of the program to be able to conform to a person’s life. Creating an engaging classroom through the usage of online tools is paramount, and ensuring these programs have a positive user experience is another hurdle. Creating platforms that provide users with an easy, intuitive, and positive experience of interaction can improve the learning experience for students.

Teaching teamwork skills through reflection

Teamwork is a skill that is vital to professional success yet is not taught in schools. Courses often utilize teamwork with the intent of allowing students to become better at it, but it is never explicitly taught. In previous blogs, I have aired the exact same grievances regarding giving presentations. I am embarrassed that I had failed to recognize teamwork as a vital skill that is similarly neglected with respect to education.

I appreciate Dr. Murzi’s inclusion of this point into the Contemporary Pedagogy course because I don’t believe I would have recognized the need to teach teamwork skills otherwise. I am also very grateful that he is providing somewhat of an instruction manual for doing so, since I have no idea how to teach this skill set, nor would I consider myself a particularly good teammate.

In line with case-based learning, Murzi et al. (2020) actually turns the learning over to the teammates themselves. While a professor does initially give a lecture on teamwork (which I do feel is valuable), most of the learning appears to come from doing – and reflecting. By reflecting on what worked, what didn’t work, and challenges faced in displaying effective teamwork, students can begin to recognize how they can best handle situations as a teammate.

With all the group projects and group work I was forced to do as a student, I never once thought about or processed the team dynamics. Instead, I was only focused on getting the project done so that I could forget about the (often traumatizing) group work experience. Little did I realize I was robbing myself of the opportunity to learn a very important life skill. But now I can give my future students the opportunity to learn teamwork skills and in a simple way.

Inclusivity in Psychology and the Classroom

The importance of inclusivity has been well demonstrated in my field of Psychology, which is still trying to make up for past psychology researchers’ failure to recognize inclusivity’s value. The theoretical foundations of psychology are rooted in the experiences of the early psychologists, who were all White, Western men. Theory was shaped by their understanding of the world and the results of studies based on samples of, once again, White, Western men.

However, as more studies were performed in more diverse areas, many of the early theories upon which the current understanding of psychology was based were failing to replicate. In psychology terms, the theories were failing to generalize to wider populations. Thanks to the open-mindedness and work done by cross-cultural researchers and researchers with other backgrounds, psychologists began realizing the extent to which they made false assumptions about people because they had never known any differently. They had never thought to question that factor, this element, those interpretations. They had never understood the extent to which people perceive the world differently, and now they were starting to see the implications of those differences.

Similarly, fostering an environment of inclusivity in the classroom is important to gain multiple perspectives from people of different walks of life. They can enlighten you to differences that had never occurred to you could even be different. Silencing contrasting voices is a disservice to the pursuit of knowledge – as is the failure to encourage such voices. Many students won’t speak up if they’re not certain that their comments will be met with enthusiasm. Through increased interaction and support of all (topical) commentary, I hope to make my students feel comfortable in the classroom and confident in sharing their own, unique takes on the course material.