The Importance of a Name…

When I think of my classrooms, I normally visualize the faces of my students.  However, in this new distance learning model that we are all part of, I am no longer seeing a sea of faces, but a screen of names.  In Sol, Milkman, & Payne’s article from the Harvard Business Review, they state, “We are all susceptible to such biases, especially when we’re fatigued, stressed, or multitasking” (2015). Which educator, especially in Pandemic times, does not have at least one of these symptoms?  In Benjamin’s 2019 Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, I was struck with how easy it is for educators and students alike to make snap decisions regarding someone simply by his/her/their name.  If we are to Inspire and encourage educators and students to use technology for civic engagement and to address challenges to improve their communities as Standard 7a implores us, then as education leaders we need to find a way to help move past implicit biases that names create and accept Shakespeare’s growth-mindset and ask, “What’s in a name?”

Being able to look past the student’s name on the screen is what we all need to do.  Yes, there are other ways to find data, and even images, of our students through our grading programs; however, interacting day-to-day with our students’ names is the new way to engage in class discussion.   Again, in looking Benjamin’s 2019 work, a study shows that people are positively affected by White-sounding names than Black-sounding ones (Benjamin). This demonstrates what the author calls “’the New Jim Code’: the employment of new technologies that reflect and reproduce existing inequities but are promoted and perceived as more objective or progressive than the discriminatory system of a previous era” (Benjamin).  Because of this, the educator’s role is so important in how to educate everyone in their virtual classroom to know that there is definitely more to someone than their name.

Educators must continue to explore the line of inquiry centered on how to use our platform of the distance learning environment to educate students on the implicit biases that we hold; even the simple, albeit prejudiced, judgment made by reading someone’s name. At this time, there is no explicit study regarding this topic; however, there are many resources on how to incorporate understanding implicit bias and how to hopefully overcome them. It is important to take time to read and understand Staats’ (2016) “Understanding Implicit Bias” and realize that our snap decisions come of what Kahneman (2011) describes “our mental processing [which he breaks] into two parts: System 1 and System 2” (Kahneman, 2011). System 1 is where a portion of the “approximately 11 million bits of information every second” (Staats, 2016) our brains process.  And it is in this system of the brain that our unconscious thoughts and decisions are made – such as biased reactions.  

Hopefully resources like this will be able to help me craft a way to present an informed lesson to my students about biases and how to recognize and hopefully overturn them when I begin teaching about the Industrial and Golden Ages of American Literature.

References:

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.

Soll, J.B., Milkman, K.L., & Payne J.W. (2015). Outsmart Your Own Biases Harvard Business Review. 64-71. https://hbr.org/2015/05/outsmart-your-own-biases

Staats, Cheryl (2016). Understanding bias: What educators should know. American Educator, 39(4), 29-33, 43.  https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1086492.pdf.

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