Biased Teachers

unconscious bias

Teachers are human. All humans are prone to unconscious biases, therefore teachers too are subject to unconscious biases. However, it’s not advisable to ever go in front of an audience of teachers and say this – I know, I’ve tried it! My argument has always been that people are only victims and weakened by their unconscious biases if they remain completely blind to them. The more that even the possibility of biases is brought in to consciousness, the greater the chances that teachers will overcome them, counteract them and render them powerless.

This was the subject of a post I wrote on this blog post three years ago;

Blog Post – Teacher Reflection Guards Against Unconscious Biases and Prejudices

With this in mind, i was very interested to see two interesting articles within the last week from different sources. The first comes from the British Psychological Society and raises the touchy issue of teacher bias against children who are overweight:

British Psychological Society – Teachers Show Biases Against Overweight Kids, Including Giving Them Lower Grades

The second article comes from the Washington Post, sharing results and data from research carried out in the UK and the US. This research concluded that without a doubt better looking children performed better and achieved to higher levels in school than less good looking children.

Washington Post – Good Looking Kids Do Better in School

Whilst the article suggests that more research is needed to figure out all the reasons for this advantage, I can’t help suspecting that again unconscious biases of teachers (and other pupils in the classroom) are playing a big part.

All of this could make unnerving reading for teachers. So many educators have chosen their profession with ideological desires to do good, to give children opportunities and qualities such as fairness and equity figure high in their priorities. So, to discover the evidence that unconscious biases are causing better or worse experiences and prospects for children sits uncomfortably. However, as i said before, I don’t believe this gets addressed by putting our heads in the sand. Awareness, vigilance, self reflection and mindfulness all have the potential to unearth the potential for such unconscious biases and prevent them.

Mindful educators can be better educators.

 

Children Who Fly Below the School Radar

bell-curve-math-is-fun

Six years ago, when I was based in the UAE,  I was invited to share my thoughts on key educational issues through a series of seven articles that I wrote. I recently read back through those articles and was especially worried to find them still so relevant today, the issues raised still largely unaddressed. When it comes to reforming and changing education there has to be atime when we stop debating what needs to change and get on and make it happen. To do that, we have to sometimes ask some tough and uncomfortable questions about who benefits from maintenance of the status quo and what needs to happen to break down those entrenched positions.

Here, below is the first of those articles that dealt with education’s obsessive interest with the ‘outliers’ and non-conforming students (under and over-achievers) that meant that little was happening to ensure that the children in the middle get a fair and reasonable, personalised learning experience.

page-1

page-2
(Click on the two links above to open the two paged article in pdf form. it should open as a separate tab or page in your browser)

Mindful Education

Mindful Education

There’s been growing interest in mindfulness in education in recent years, but all too often educators struggle to know where to start, how to work with the teachers first before considering the potential impacts for students or how to carry all other stakeholders with them.  I’ve also had experiences where senior educators have struggled to figure out all the implications of how mindfulness practices will change so many other facets of their school culture. For example, if a school expresses a commitment to mindfulness then it has to completely rethink its approach to discipline, behaviour policies etc.

I’m always keen to bring free and useful resources to the attention of readers of this blog. So, I wanted to get a quick message out to all to share information on the Mindful Education Summit. This is a free online conference that actually started on Wednesday. Each day they share through the website (link below) a number of video presentations of talks of varying lengths. each day’s videos are available for 48 hours. So, there is still a little time to catch up on the day 1 material, day 2 will be available for another day and day 3 is just launching now.

The videos vary between explanation of theory and research in the area of applying mindfulness in education environments and some that are very geared to providing demonstrations and simple practices of mindful practices.

The Mindful Education Summit Website
(Click on the link above and it will open a new tab or page in your bowser. You will simply be asked to share your name and email address to register, then getting full access to the videos.

Fundamental Protection of the Child Before the Fancy Stuff

Cane-corporal-punishment

It is not “acceptable that a society which prohibits any form of physical violence between adults would accept that adults subject children to physical violence.”

European Committee of Social Rights, 2001

It’s often strange to me that we live, today, in a world obsessed to the point of ignoring almost all else with equality on the grounds of gender (including sexual orientation) and race/ religion. Included in the “all else” here are the rights of children.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) came in to effect in September 1990. Most member countries of the UN have adopted the convention (with the exception of the USA, which signed, but has never ratified). Within that convention Article 19.1: “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation . . . .”

With all of that in mind, it might seem like the issue of corporal punishment in schools was no longer a matter for debate or discussion. However, that’s very clearly not the case. It seems not to matter how much weight of evidence builds up about how children are traumatised and learning is inhibited when they experience any kind of fear or physical punishment. In too many parts of the world people will still rationalise and find reasons to justify the continuation of such incomprehensible and unjustifiable practices.

Many of the countries where corporal punishment is defended make arguments based upon religious or cultural precedent for the physical chastisement of children. However, the same religious writings frequently advocate the keeping of slaves and the subservience of women! Society has proved, throughout the world, perfectly capable of modernising its reading and interpretation of religious texts as humankind’s perceptions of right and wrong, ethics and morals, evolve. In fact, it’s embarrassingly shameful to have to concede that there’s often a strong correlation between those countries and the former reaches of the British Empire. It was often the British who imposed corporal punishment in the schools they established, this having its roots in a certain puritanical brand of British Christianity.

Here in Malaysia, we have the sad situation that few seem to see the flagrant incongruity in a school system that celebrates a Kindness Week (which I applauded in April 2019) whilst still maintaining and using corporal punishment. The message would appear to be – children should be kind to each other, because we say so. However, we the adults are way above considerations of kindness when it comes to exerting our willful power over children. I believe a proper reading of the current law in the country only permits corporal punishment in schools for boys. However, the reality is that girls are also receiving physical punishment, usually with a cane.

Whilst already uncomfortable and unhappy that Malaysia has not yet been able to move on from corporal punishment, I was shocked recently to see the following media report:

Business Insider Malaysia Article – Survey Parent Views on Corporal Punishment

In this research survey, only 20% of Malaysian parents were against corporal punishment use in schools. Nearly half were in favour and a third undecided. Without wanting in any way to be condescending this alarms me as evidence that way too little effort has gone in to sharing with people in the country the realities of the harm done by corporal punishment on the individual child, as well as on the culture of a school or even the overall culture of people in the country.

There have been repeated instances of research around the world, all showing that children with physical, mental or learning disabilities are three to five times more likely to be on the receiving end of corporal punishment. There are also many studies that suggest children of minority communities also become victims more frequently. Nobody suggests that this flows from any kind of deliberate or conscious targeting or persecution. Rather, in the demands made by school experiences, the nature of classrooms, expectations and frustrations they are more likely to cross the lines to show behaviours and actions that lead to such punishments being meted out.

Bringing change requires a multi-pronged approach over time;

a) Sensitising the public to the lack of effectiveness, the harm and potential for abuse afforded by laws and rules that tolerate corporal punishment.
(This needs to also address the more delicate issue of corporal punishment in the home. If more accept that they should not be physically assaulting their own children, then they will naturally be unwilling to accept that others should have any right to do so)

b) Training and sensitizing teachers and education leaders;
(i) in alternative and more effective/ humane methods of maintaining environments with positive behaviour
(ii) about how resorting to physical violence against children goes against the objectives of modern education, and actually contributes to increased violence and aggression in their schools and in the wider society.

The use of violence against children sends a simple message – power lies with the biggest and strongest. That power includes the right to make the rules and to enforce them, regardless of your rights or your will.  It dehumanizes. It becomes inevitable that it increases the likelihood that children will use physical violence on those smaller and weaker than themselves (ironically being one of the things that perpetuates male violence against women).

The issue of physical violence (child abuse) against children can be a very challenging issue for international educators to deal with. If a teacher works in a school in the UK has reason to believe that a child might have been subjected to physical harm (by a parent or carer or anyone else) they are duty bound to report it. Failure to do so can even, in the most extreme circumstances, lead to their criminal prosecution.

However, when they go to teach in another country few have thought through the realities they will face. I’ve met plenty of international educators in different countries who were very disturbed when they discovered that on finding bruises or other evidence of physical harm on a child there were almost no courses of action open to them, at least formally. In private school environments I’ve seen and heard evidence that the school authorities, the teacher’s leaders, stopped them from taking action fearing a backlash or negative reaction from parents. In other cases, even where the school leadership took a positive approach, teachers found that attempts to report to any ministry of government could actually worsen the situation for the child and create even greater risk. Teachers working under such circumstances, in their desire to protect the child, may even resort to avoiding sending any negative report or information to the home that could cause them to get further abused.

I recently came across this harrowing Edsurge blog post that highlighted how even teachers in Western countries delivering online tutoring can run up against evidence of child abuse that they find disturbing, especially in their powerlessness to protect the child.

(Click on the link that says – “Bonus Episode: When an Online Teaching Job Becomes a Window into Child Abuse)

There is a historical paradigm of the child as a possession, an asset of the father (or at least the family) and this has tended to perpetuate beliefs that as a person’s possession it is their right to decide how they will deal with it. However, this should not be seen as a block or reason for inaction. Wives were also once upon a time seen the same way – as an asset acquired through marriage, over which a man was entitled for all property rights.

Worldwide, society has made more progress for women than for children, perhaps because women have been able to use their own voice in advocacy. I believe educators need to be more willing to raise their voice for children. Cold, proprietorial mindsets with regard to child abuse also manifest in many of the other ills that plague education; under investment in assets, training, respect for teachers. It even contributes to the failure to act on climate change and global warming, levels of societal debt etc.  – all issues that children will be saddled with in the future.

Much of the momentum of what happens and what changes in education flows from the political climate within a country. Here in Malaysia currently i find cause for some worry. Where there is active debate about education its around issues like whether Maths and Science should be taught in English. These types of issues can generate a lot of heat because of religious and nationalistic sensitivities.

New Straits Times – English Language Teaching Article

However, i have sadly seen much less momentum or debate about resolving what are far more foundational and fundamental issues:

Business Insider Malaysia – Malaysia Ranked 71st for Childhood Protection

This article raises issues regarding severe malnourishment, children not attending school. These are pivotal roles for any education system to claim that it treats children with equity and equality of opportunities. Regrettably, this is typical of a wider set of issues worldwide.  Under the auspices of the United Nations, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were put in place to replace the earlier goals that were not achieved. However, while there is progress, warnings are already being made that the current pace will see the targets missed again:

Devex – UNESCO Issues Dire Predictions For 2030 Education Targets

One of the biggest challenges is that these are big, challenging issues that require long term plans, solutions and effort. These are unfortunately not the kinds of things that politicians are typically good at – tending to be far more focused on issues that please their ideological supporters and short term issues that yield more immediate and visible results.

I don’t want to suggest that all is doom and gloom. We have moved forward and progress has been made. There are millions of children who have a better life than they would have had otherwise, as highlighted by the detailed and comprehensive review report from Save The Children published recently:

Save The Children – Changing Lives in our Lifetime
(Right click and save to download the adobe pdf report)

 

 

Understanding Differentness

This is a superb video that very sensitively helps children (and others) to gain insights in to autism, its impacts on those who have it and in a broader sense helps them to develop their sense of otherness, differentness and empathy. it's only as we develop the ability to step in to another's shoes that we truly can be empathic and welcome differentness.

New Perspective on ADHD?

For quite a few years there have been people ready to at least hint that all might not be healthy around the issue of ADHD. Concerns have arisen about how the condition came in to existence, was recognised formally, how the pharmaceutical industry mad it a point to emphasise that this was a condition meriting long term treatment with powerful medicines and how it came to be diagnosed so readily that in some parts of the US one in eight children have had this label put on them.

When i talk about those who hinted that all was not well, one prominent person who immediately comes to mind is Dr Ken Robinson. For a long time he’s been questioning whether all is well, though prefacing most of his comments with a statement that he’s not qualified to say that ADHD doesn’t exist. People like robinson have to be very careful indeed. many have taken on the vested interests of the pharmaceutical industry and found that they paid a heavy price. For someone like him, discovering that routes to get his messages out about the needs for change in education would be a price too high to pay.

So, it struck me very forcefully when i saw that someone very prominent in the psychology field has now broken ranks and dared to come out and say just that – he doesn’t believe ADHD exists!

Power of Positivity – Harvard Psychologist Reveals ADHD Doesn’t Really Exist
(Click on the link above to read the article)

As you read the article, it’s very clear that Kagan isn’t just making a point about ADHD alone, but about the general pattern of over-diagnosis in the mental health profession that is having a devastating effect on too many people’s lives. Not every symptom is a reason for a diagnosis. He advocates for more time to be spent investigating causes.

In a school environment, I have often seen that it’s way too easy for the professional child carers to look for a simple diagnosis that can be dealt with when that’s what all the parties concerned are looking for. The parents want an answer for why their child is how they are (and why they’re different to other children) and the educators often want the child to comply more with norms so that educating in the classroom is made more consistent). In these circumstances, to explore causes means to unpick and expose all sorts of issues about the family, how they live, the patterns of their days and their interpersonal relationships, their communication, their routines (or lack of), their habits, their diet. Often, this is not what sits comfortably with the parents – with all the implications that they might have to take some responsibility for what’s happening with their child. Inadvertently, or otherwise, their actions may be at the root of their child’s problems. And who wants to be the professional taking parents down that route when the alternative is to tell them their child has a condition, common in their environment, and that it can be dealt with with an appropriate pharmacological solution.

We see in the article that Kagan has already come under attack for daring to speak out, and has been forced on to the defensive. The power of big pharma and entrenched attitudes are powerful indeed. His request that ‘we search a little deeper’ before diagnosing children is a perfectly reasonable one. However, I’m left feeling that as it’s not in the best interests of those concerned – the parents or the professionals, it’s not likely to change any time soon.

Technology Changes for 2016-17

We live in an age with technology change happening at an ever increasing rate. We only need to think how few years it has taken for smart phones to become such an integral part of our daily lives to know that this pace of change is not going to slow down.

In my growing up years (a very long time ago now!) probably the biggest technology changes happening were quite significant, though we didn’t always realise it at the time. Cars became available to a much broader mass market. I’m pretty sure my father was the first person in either his or my mother’s family to own a car. This suddenly brought a whole new level of mobility in to our lives that had never been imagined previously. Second, TV became ‘mass market’. It was black and white, and in England had only three channels. It didn’t broadcast 24 hours a day like it does now, but used to close down at night with the national anthem. I think I’m right that it used to close down for a few hours in the morning and a couple of hours in mid afternoon as well. Nevertheless, it brought enormous changes in how families entertained themselves. The final one that sticks in my mind is the first computer games consols – one game (a simple form of tennis) where you either played against the computer or an opponent. It plugged in to the TV, so as soon as anyone wanted to watch something, you had to stop playing. None of us then knew what all this was the prelude to.

For the children who are growing up now, the technology really defines many of their life experiences both now and in the future. As a result, these things should matter and be of more than passing interest for us as educators. After all, it’s a future that we’ve committed to preparing children and young people for.

I’m always interested in expert predictions of what are going to be the ‘next big things’, especially when they come from people with a good record of past predictions. So, I was very interested to read this article that sets out the likely big tech trends for 2016;

11 Tech Trends That Will Define 2016
(Click on the link above to read the article)

The prediction about use of Artificial Intelligence to support the learning of special needs students is especially fascinating and makes a great deal of sense. It could be enormously powerful.