Objective vs. Subjective, and the influence of bias on Teaching
The tone off what I am about to write may come off as negative, but basically I just want to objectively discuss a sensitive topic that is present at my University: how attitude can shape teaching.
When you hold an “objective” opinion, the idea is that you would be able to evaluate both sides of an argument or a proposed idea, and after having considered the pros and cons of what the consequences of accepting it would bring, come to your own conclusions about whether or not it would be a positive or negative thing. “Subjective” opinions, on the other hand, are the second half of that process; you are allowed to insert more of your personal bias into the conversation, recognizing that your bias exists.
However, it is impossible to hold decent objective opinions, if your subjective opinions are based on aggression, racism, discrimination as a whole, and any kind of violent or prejudiced prior judgment. This can be bias, but this can also be little ignorances that eventually will grow to be cruel, over time. We all do it, and even though we all do it, it is still a garbage thing to do.
Being able to detach judgment from your circumstances is not always a good thing. Detaching your better judgment can put you at risk, in terms of safety. It can make you more prone to blindly listen to authority, and it can endanger the lives of you and the ones you love. On the flipside, if you only rely on your raw emotions, you may be out of sync with reality, and very few people will listen to you.
As children raised in Western culture, we are told that the way to become calm and healthy is to remove ourselves from a negative thing. This could be poverty (taking the form of materialism). This could be stereotyping others. This could be the treatment for an anxiety disorder (taking a 5 minute break from something scary, and then going back). This could be a whole plethora of things. And now, because we have been taught that, with very little regard to teaching us technical skills in school or the things that we may actually want to learn, in ways that are legitimately fun and not painful to absorb, we cannot do many things very well, as a whole.
Of the people I know, most of us cannot cook worth anything. Most of us cannot maintain any sort of household tasks, with any degree of frequency. Most of us cannot hold a respectful conversation with a person significantly older or younger than ourselves, because most of us have not been allowed to try, and to realize that there is value in trying. Most of us can do many things that we need to live our lives well, but we are told that they are invaluable, in a culture where we can get anything and everything we need constantly. And then we are punished for the impact that this kind of thinking has on our brains, by people who legitimately do not try to understand.
You see, if you teach at any University, then you need to realize that if adult aged students dislike you as a person, they will probably be less likely to listen to what you have to say. They may do worse on their tests. They may do just fine. But honestly, that depends more on how easy you structure the course, and not whether or not we actually learn. To learn, we have to be able to trust you. There are so many chaotic factors in our lives that the ability to trust an instructor is enormous; arguably more important here than in K-12 or basically, anywhere else. This is when we are meant to miraculous transform into adults, and if you are someone who no one generally likes to be around, you are going to have just as hard of a time getting any one of us to listen as you will getting along with anyone in your Department. Your reputation says mountains about you, regardless of if you accept that. For whatever reason, many professors think that acting in a way that is despicable or not checking their biases won’t matter, so long as their work is good. But that is a lie, and it is a dangerous example to be setting for students, especially if you want us to thrive in the real world.
Most of my teachers are cool people, and have been. There are teachers that aren’t always aware of how they come off, and very few feel comfortable asking; they think it’s “inappropriate”. Yes, it very well may be inappropriate. But if you want honest feedback and a way to truly transform the efficacy of how you teach, you should consider asking a student directly. It does not have to be scary. “Does this work”? “Is there anything that would make it easier for you to learn?” We are capable of appreciating any and all effort you put out to teach us better, because quite frankly, we aren’t often used to it. In terms of which Departments students decide to pursue as their majors, most of us (from what I can tell) will make decisions based off of personal preferences we may or may not share during advising appointments. We may think you are on crack if you are seriously a jerk, partially because we may actually know a thing or two about crack, but mostly because if you are an irrational jerk who likes to treat other people poorly, it will be very obvious by the words you choose and the tone you portray, whether or not you or I or your students realize it. If you have trouble getting through to other people, that will be no different in teaching. And given the economy and where people’s priorities are at now, in terms of the job market, it is probably dangerous for you, as a whole.
I respect my teachers, and I respect it when they try. Sometimes, they do not always realize when they say things that are offensive to students. That is okay; I know that they too have flaws, and I can look past them, to a certain extent. But if you’re really a shoddy person, and being around you is not a pleasant experience, and I can pass your course just reading the textbook and showing up on exam day? Maybe you should consider the impact that your attitude may have on students, who may or may not show up, based on whether or not you are cruel.
Thing is, as students, many of us know that if we truly want, we could know anything we want to learn about off of Youtube. We can learn all the skills we really need, if we deem them valuable, and not all of us are going to wait for you to tell us they are worth learning, we will learn them if we believe we need them and you will go on being a jerk until you eventually get fired. That is just the way it is. It may not be nice, but I swear, I could learn anything on my own faster than going to a class with a teacher that treats me poorly, and if he or she really believes in the “do it on your own and don’t involve me” ethos that many professors can demonstrate, they will probably structure their exams in such a way that allows me to cut my losses and still get an A. They may have their supervisors breathing down their necks, and be forced to take attendance points, but often, teachers will give everyone attendance if everyone shows up, if they are really afraid of having bad evaluations. It’s almost like a bargaining process sometimes: Will I give you all 5’s on your review if you decide to give me attendance? Perhaps. I typically write out exactly what I think on my anonymous reviews, but when that includes my handwriting, that makes me uneasy. It is safer for students to just give a professor rave reviews than to endanger your grade by maybe taking the same professor twice, and saying what you think the first time. Now, most people aren’t even going to think about that. But maybe some people already do, and they just decide to not care, give a teacher a perfect review, and leave as soon as possible (from that class period). If we don’t trust you, then you may not know it, and if that doesn’t scare you, then there is probably a problem there.
Now, all of what I have written has been a subjective opinion, according to what I think. I have focused mainly on the consequences of the influence that my professors’ actions may have on we, their students. My opinion is my right. Although it is slightly more grey area, I do not believe that claiming my opinion to be the absolute truth is my right; I believe that claiming that breeds discrimination and hurts other people, on both the short term and long term. I may not be perfect, but I would rather not do that, just because I value the people I’m around, and if I have anything to say, I’d rather them trust me. I may not say everything. But if I have something to say, and it isn’t exactly bad, and it isn’t exactly true, it just is, should I be quiet? I have no idea. If I tell the truth, I often feel like that would bode poorly for me, on the long term. But ironically, I know that the people that can appreciate things for what they are will also (eventually if not now) appreciate honesty. And those are the people I’d like to work for, have in my immediate and friend family, and generally be around. It makes sense for me to allow myself to be honest like this, because over time once my generation really starts running the game, those people will probably be displaced of naturally causes anyways, once they decide that communicating with others and teaching them well is not worthy of their time. Once Millennials really start running the show, all the people that continuously complain on the internet about how insensitive and rude we are (not “can be”) will probably be the first to benefit from some of the changes that we hope to accomplish. Irony’s pretty funny like that.
I don’t understand how someone can bear to be jaded for most of their life, and then force themselves to claim not to be. It is an established thing at this point for so many people that sometimes, nobody is right, and we all have a thing or two to learn. It may not be “appropriate” that I’m saying these things, but would you punish me for simply saying them? I hope not, but at this point, I would not be surprised.
Whatever! I hope that this blog post finds you well, and that if you are in a hemisphere where seasonal illness can still affect you, that you might escape it unscathed. Blessings on the rest of your week.
All the best,