Tag Archives: bias

2020 Vision

The world has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. It is difficult to fully grasp the increase in access to information, and with it, misinformation.

Education has a responsibility to try and keep up with this exponential growth in access.

If this responsibility is taken on a case by case basis it becomes impossible. Even the most gifted teacher can’t fact check the firehose of information and media being fed to students (and every internet user) on a daily basis.

So how can educators avoid getting stuck in a perpetual Sisyphus style loop with correcting misinformation?

There is an old, now cliché, saying: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

Modified: Provide someone a truth, and you correct one lie. Teach someone to pursue truth, and you keep them from a lifetime of deception.

Teaching students (or anyone) to recognize fact from falsehood is not an easy task. There are a dozen different forms of bias that serve as barriers to the truth, some of which are variants on the traditional forms of bias we think of as educators.

Last year I was at a Town Hall meeting on the possibility and impact of new low-income housing. The audience could be described as hostile. At one point in the presentation, there was a slide showing cited figures disproving the notion that “low-income” means “more crime”. At this point, one of the audience members stood up and proclaimed, phone waving in hand, that that information was inaccurate because “He just Googled it”.

“I Googled It” Bias (a variant of anchoring bias) is just the tip of the iceberg. Where Google has at least considered filtering for accuracy over relevance, social media platforms have generally taken the opposite approach. This blatant disregard for accuracy is especially dangerous because, according to Forbes magazine, 64.5% of internet users receive breaking news from social media.

Social media is an addiction, and like all addictions, expect a fight when trying to wean people away from it. The path of least resistance here is not to go after social media altogether (I’d struggle to give up /aww on reddit), but rather educate that social media shouldn’t be a primary, or even secondary, source of information. At best social media should serve as a tertiary form of information, it should provoke the thought of “Is this true?” rather than “This is true.”.

The next step goes to my old rallying cry around critical thinking skills:

  • Always consider both sides of the issue
  • Question, no matter the source
  • Look for currency, credibility, and bias

The first thought when reading any information shouldn’t be “What is being said?”, but rather, “Who is saying it?”. Most importantly, find multiple sources for the same piece of information.

This notion especially holds true when educators start thinking about “quality sources”. One of the dangers in academia is the sometimes blind faith put in peer-reviewed journals. Unfortunately, there have been multiple cases, with some even causing societal belief shifts, where data published in peer-reviewed journals are later found to be false.

As difficult as it may be, both educators and students have to acquiesce to the notion that some facts can be fickle. The understandings of society, history, and science are usually “best guesses”, but that should not dissuade from the pursuit.

In the end, it is the pursuit of truth that should be the primary focus of education. Every teacher should strive to show students how to limit social media’s influence, avoid bias, and apply critical thinking. These skills will prove invaluable long after a student graduates, and well into whatever era comes after this age of information.

 

The Sleeper has Awakened

There are really two kinds of dreams, dreams we have for ourselves (personal goals and desires) and those we have for the world around us. But dreams don’t have to be these surreal or unobtainable goals, no matter how big they are. For those who enjoy viral internet trends, you may have seen a little gem with Shia LeBeouf giving an inspiring “speech” entitled, “Just Do It.” During the motivational and comically energetic rant he utters one very important line, “Don’t let your dreams be dreams.”

The dreams we have for ourselves usually involve work or family. On the surface they seem much more obtainable. For example, I often dream of working as full time faculty and finally being able to move on from ten years of working part time at multiple schools. I dream of raising a child with my wife and doing the best I can to provide the same support she has provided me ever since we started dating fifteen years ago. I’d like to think those are obtainable dreams. But dreams don’t come true if you fail to act on them, they require action. My adjunct work at GCC allowed me to start working towards some of my personal dreams. I have been given the opportunity (and even encouraged) to present at meetings, develop curriculum, and even help design entire courses. Those are all very real opportunities that serve as important and needed experience. I may not have reached my dream yet, but those opportunities acted upon are progressive steps.

The dreams we have for the world around us are usually far more reaching, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be acted upon just like personal goals. My far reaching dream would be to live in a world free from prejudice and bias. When I lived in Detroit I was able to see firsthand how horrible and destructive those forces can be. I may just be an adjunct English instructor, but even from that position I can act on my dream to create that better world. By encouraging critical thinking, healthy debate, and empathy in the classroom, slowly but surely, one student at a time, the world becomes a better place through my actions. I can’t have an impact on everyone, but each student I do have a positive influence on creates a ripple, and those ripples may be felt around the world.

Image of water ripples
Surface Waves (c) wikipedia commons

So don’t just sit and dream, take action, even a small step. Let the sleeper awaken and watch the world around you slowly change into to the one you imagined and hoped for. Just do it.