Teaching Fairly

As we learn about psychology, we are discovering the subconscious behavior for a person to favor someone who is similar to them.  We all do it, you, me, everyone; without thinking or realizing.  It’s very natural to share camaraderie with people of our same background, from fraternity or sorority members to people who share  the same background and interests that we share.  People who both like football, golf, nascar, jazz music, any commonality to bind us together. It’s a basic human instinct to try and understand the people we are interacting with.  We want to know if someone is male or female, what is their age, their ethnicity, their upbringing.  Whether this makes sense or not, we will assume we better understand someone who grew up in the same area and shares the same ethnic identity compared to people who differ from us in these characteristics.

Now that we understand this idea, we see many examples in our social world of how this concept subtly rules our behavior.  From corporate executives bonding and promoting with people of similar characteristics, gender, and ethnicity to teachers, who tend to be female, showing more leniency toward female students in their grading and evaluations which is helping girls excel in academics and is hurting their male peers.  This can be crucial at every level of education, since there are certain windows we have to learn certain skills.  Even as early as preschool, studies show that kids who learn the soft skills will have more successful lives long term.  And we are discovering the extent of a teacher’s expectations can affect the student’s achievement.  Although being lenient on girls in school may help to reverse the unintentional bias against women in the workplace, it’s

not a fair treatment of boys to help them achieve their potential.  Both genders need equally supportive leaders, family, and educators to set high expectations that encourage the kids to achieve.

So how can we combat this subconscious bias?  As G.I. Joe reminds us each episode, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.”  As a Caucasian female, who grew up in California but now resides in Massachusetts, I might never fully understand the circumstances and point of view of an Asian male who grew up in South Korea and now resides and works in Ohio.  We will always have different points of views with people around us, even with people of similar backgrounds.   In order to treat people fairly, and give the same support and benefits to people of equal standing, we need to better understand those different points of view.

And by including more people with varying points of view, we will improve our networks and knowledge centers.  By focusing our interactions with people of similar backgrounds, we are less likely to tap into a resource we are not already connected to.  So in order to improve our businesses, we should increase diversity in our workplace, which goes against our natural tendency.  We naturally feel better in a group of our peers, who can understand and accept us without much effort.

The more extreme version of this tendency is to think of people as “Us” vs. “Them.”  Sociologists are learning the depths that people will categorize other people to be part of their group, or to consider them as an outsider, and the residual effects of thinking that way.  Which is way beyond my level of understanding, but I find fascinating.  A few professors at the University of Michigan discuss this idea of Us vs. Them in a paper.


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