This month I am participating in #CyberPD with Sara K. Ahmed’s new book Being the Change. It’s an incredible resource to help us teach social comprehension to our students, but also to help us raise our personal awareness of our biases (particularly implicit bias) in areas of race, gender, politics, sexuality, and religion. We all have them-even if we don’t recognize them. Sara’s goal isn’t to shame us, but to enlighten us. She’s brilliant.
One of my key take-aways was Sara’s explanation of how our brain works to show why bias can have such a strong effect on our thinking. She explained that our brain works in 2 big systems.
- System 1 is automatic and always instantly reacting. This is where we make snap judgments and assumptions. “When we look at a person, we sometimes make up a quick story about them before we even get to know them; they are scary, they don’t speak English, they are poor, they are cool, they are smart, they are slow and lazy. It happens automatically, without thinking…”
- System 2 is more logical and rational. “It is more controlled and conscious that a snap reaction. We slow down.” Sara explains that this system is in charge of self-control and more conscious thought.
This got me thinking. How often have I made up a quick story about someone I don’t know? I decided to monitor my thinking more consciously this past week and realized it was more than I thought. As Tom Newkirk asserts, our minds are made for stories. (Newkirk, 2014) and my mind automatically crafted ‘stories’ about people I saw in cars, in stores, on the beach… I can’t turn it off-my curious mind kicks in.
Then I started to wonder– How many of my stories gave generous interpretations and positive attributes to these ‘characters’ in my life? How many reflected my own implicit biases? I am embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t as kind as I want to be in life, that my stories weren’t always as empathetic as I desire to be.
Raising my own awareness is helping me to activate my System 2 more consciously and intentionally. Everyone has a story-if my brain is going to create a narrative I want to consider them as the protagonist in their own story and not just an extra in my own. I want to see them in the kindest light possible. I want to remember that they were somebody’s beloved child with the same hopes and dreams we all have.
I’m not Pollyanna, I know this isn’t a magical transformation. I know my System 1 will always be working in the background. I know my experiences will always shape my unconscious thoughts. But I do believe awareness is a powerful step for BEING THE CHANGE and changing my experiences in visualizing these stories can begin to change my unconscious thoughts for the better.
One More Off My TBR Stack!
CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi What a stunning adventure author Tomi Adeyemi has crafted that is a metaphor for the the cruelty of racism and blind hatred. Set in the land of Orïsha, we meet our heroine, Zélie, born a maji; white-haired, magic wielding people who bring the good will of the gods to the people of Orïsha and her brother, Tzain. But when she was young, the king ordered all magi executed-including Zélie’s mother and stripped the maji of their magic. We also meet Amari and her brother Inan-children of the king who are conflicted by the cruelty of their own father and their sense of loyalty for family. Forming an unlikely alliance, we see these four set off on a hero’s journey to restore magic to the world and free the people of Orïsha from their oppression. So many twists and turns in this novel, you’ll have a hard time putting it down. Make sure you take time to read the author’s note-I almost wish I had started there!
If you enjoy audiobooks, you will love this version. Narrated by Bahni Turpin, I was mesmerized and completely pulled into the world of Orïsha. Winner of the Tonight Show Summer Reads with Jimmy Fallon, a lot of people will be talking about this book-and that makes me happy!
2 thoughts on “Checking Our Stories”
In the month of May, I read “The Wishtree” by Katherine Applegate to my class. We cried together when the mean boy carved the word “leave” into the tree! And we talked a lot about why some people were not being very nice to the girl in the story. But it was all a thing that was happening in a book. I had to teach them what “Muslim” means and draw the connection for them to people they do know. However, it was still just a story from a book until I had to talk to them about how they were treating a boy in the class. He was being ostracized because of a long history of behaviour problems. I told them that I knew he was different and having a hard time, but that we all needed to help him make good decisions, and making him feel welcome instead of embarrassed would go a long way. The class rose to the occasion and really turned their attitude around, which in turn really helped their classmate. I mention this because I feel this book is about so much more than accepting people who look different from the majority. It’s also about figuring out who each person is, then appreciating that in each other. I think you are right: awareness is a huge step in the right direction!
Lisa, you are a real gift to your students. Every child deserves a teacher like you!!