"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How Could We Fight Our Own Bias

We can easily proclaim our newly found commitment to diversity. After all, diversity is indeed necessary for realizing the full potential of a society. Yet, this commitment gets washed away as we continue to cling on exercises that only highlight inequity and our inclinations and prejudices. For instance, higher education still considers standardized exam scores for admission even with the knowledge that these exams favor those who are privileged in society. Worse, we browse through a research paper and conclude something that is so far from what the data really suggest. One example is when CNN reported on a study that correlates social behavior in kindergarten with success later as an adult.

Above copied from CNN
The study was authored by researchers from Pennsylvania State University and was published in the American Journal of Public Health. It examined 13- to -19-year longitudinal data that included kindergarten social assessments and later outcomes such as higher education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health, from low-income neighborhoods in 3 urban sites and 1 rural setting. The results showed that children rated low in social and emotional functioning were less likely to attend college. These children were more likely as adults to commit crimes, to abuse drugs, and suffer mental problems.

If what we see in kindergarten predicts what we will see in the future then the obvious conclusion is that nothing is happening in between. Schools apparently do not matter. But are we not trying to teach children in our classrooms? We have been long made aware of the difference between fixed and growth mindsets. Children can learn. What they are in kindergarten should not decide what they will be in the future. Yet, we still see a strong correlation between the early years of basic education and later outcomes. What is going wrong?

We see gaps showing up early in education, but we really do not do anything about it. Oftentimes, we actually propagate the gap. We strongly count on our instincts and our first impressions. We frequently rely on how little we know in extrapolating what we think will happen. It is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy because we never think of what we really ought to do to address properly the gaps that we see. Social and emotional abilities like cognitive abilities can be taught. We can, first of all, model these. Yet, when we see a child who is causing trouble, we resort to punitive measures that do not really help the child develop these noncognitive abilities. This is the real reason why there is a correlation between how a child behaves in kindergarten and how that child behaves after so many years. We are simply not doing anything and we are in fact propagating our bias. The study is not so much how well kindergarten scores correlate with adult life. The study is more about how we are failing our children.




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