A bit of spring cleaning for the mind?

There’s nothing like traveling to an unfamiliar place to force you to confront your own assumptions and biases – of various kinds. About people and their practices, systems, foods… you name it, and we are likely to have an opinion, good or bad, that informs our expectations and even interactions. So, when we enter an unfamiliar context, and encounter situations – people and things – that we have only heard of second hand, we often find that there’s a gap between what we thought we would see/experience and what actually faces us. This may lead to discomfort and denial, or to pleasant surprise and acceptance, depending on the nature of our biases. Foods that looked delicious in a glossy magazine may end up disappointing the taste buds; people who seemed cold and distant might turn out to be very helpful and warm. But of course, the extent to which we allow experience to actually change how we think, depends on how open we are to reflecting on and actually acknowledging our (often wrong) assumptions.

This seems like the premise of an annual drama in my own classroom. When a new cohort of students enters, it’s much like walking into a new situation for the nth time. We enter with a whole bunch of expectations and ideas about how certain students will perform, based on their roll numbers, names, the way they look or hold their books or fidget in their seats. We make judgments about naughtiness and niceness, intelligence or lack thereof, ability and difference. As we gain experience, we may learn to set these biases aside and enter these new relationships with an open mind. But there are always those stubborn little ideas that stick and make you see in a certain way, closing off alternative views, and limiting one’s chances to be surprised in good ways or even to be prepared for unpleasantness.

The articles in Teacher Plus more often than not spring from the belief that we can always learn new things and adopt new ways of seeing. But this also implies that we are prepared to accept that the ways in which we see and do might be imperfect, or even wrong, that we too may have many of those stubborn little ideas that frame our thinking without our being aware of it. With a bit of reflection and mental excavation, we can trace the sources of our biases and try to link them to our interactions with the world.

That’s what we invite you to do – open yourself up to new experiences, allow the world to shock you a little, shake up the structures in your head now and then, and challenge your biases. And let us know what it does for you!

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