Thursday, March 31, 2011

Not everyone is like me

Yes, an obvious truth but one that I've been spending a good deal of time discussing with my students. I think that as humans we have a tendency to assume that other people basically have the same 'take' on things as we do (while simultaneously believing that no one really understands us; but I think that the 'I am alone in the world' stance is one that hits most of us rarely and that most of the time we think most people generally see the world the way we do). There's lots of evidence anecdotal and otherwise to suggest that we think that most people (particularly those who we like) share most of our views even if we have no evidence beyond liking them that they have the same views. My suspicion is that at least part of this is due to the fact that if we view our view of the world to be the correct one — or else we'd have another one — and we figure that if we like someone they are unlikely to be the sort of person who is wildly irrational.

Anyway, onto how I've bumped into this in my own life. I recently went to a roundtable discussion that was about certain aspects of teaching and, well, due to the particular title it ended up that the folks who were there were not the usual cadre of folks but instead people who I vaguely know and have no reason to think I don't like, but who I really have never had a conversation with.

Well, the discussion made me realize the extent to which my thinking about teaching and students is not universally shared and that my views on teaching and students are viewed as being marginally naive, at best, and downright silly at worst.

I believe (and have evidence, data, etc to back it up) that most anyone can learn and become good at most anything given enough practice and the right kind of teaching (of course what counts as the 'right kind' of teaching is likely going to depend on the student and so the teacher is going to have to work to figure out what the student needs). Apparently, this is just crazy talk according to some folks. People were taking the position that some students simply CAN'T do some things and no amount of work or effort on anyone's part is going to make this possible. In fact, the phrase 'would need a brain transplant' was bandied about as the only means by which some students could succeed in some classes.

Wow. Just, wow.

Now, granted I could be wrong in my belief that any student can learn anything, but given that we can always be fallible, isn't it better to believe that students can learn and we just need to figure out how to make that happen (and risk being mistaken) than to take the position that some students simply can't learn and risk being mistaken in this direction? I mean it seems far worse to believe that a student can't learn, write them off when, in fact, they could have learned than it is to believe that the can learn and keep trying and have that be wasted energy because they simply can't learn. In the former case, we as teachers aren't learning anything new, aren't being self-reflective about our own practice and are probably sending the message to the student that this is all about them. If we're wrong and it isn't all about them, we've just unjustifiably caused this student to have certain beliefs about him or herself that are just false. And, we've not done anything to grow ourselves.

Okay, I've gotten that out of my system now. thank you for listening.

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