A Lesson in Structural Inequalities

Yesterday I realised a some-what hard hitting truth that I thought I already knew. Personal bias is everywhere. It is as instinctual in humans as our sense of survival. Whether we like to admit it or not, favouritism is more present in our lives than we would like to admit. Be it a favourite friend in a group, your favourite footballer compared to a rival or what dog is your favourite at home.

So what lead to that realisation? During the morning Values lecture, we were informed that were to partake in group activities later in the afternoon without much of a clarification, When the time came, our particular group of roughly 24 were divided into smaller squads of 6 and were informed by the overseeing Paul Cowie that the contents of his soon-to-be issued brown envelopes contained materials that we were to be used with the purpose of designing resources for new students arriving in Dundee for the first time.

With the shadow of a time limit of roughly 10 minutes beckoning, my group quickly got to work with offering ideas when we opened our envelope to the sight of many academic assets, such as an abundance of paper, pens, rubber bands, claps and the such. It didn’t take long before we agreed that we saw fit that our creation would be a multi-paged booklet, stating the many different sides to the city of Dundee, in the shape of a cocktail menu. Paul informed us that we had to present our ideas — at this stage, just in principle — to the rest of the 3 groups. Throughout this time, he reacted positively and encouraging to our ideas, and laughed along to our quips and silly suggestions.

This positive reaction from the rest of our peers inspired the group to put ideas to paper as we took on the responsibilities of a page of the menu each whilst trying to complete it within the time-frame. Paul took the time to let us know that he believed our idea was the best of the bunch so far and happily informed that we could get a little time past the deadline. As before, when we presented our final product, we were met with positivity, smiles and subtle head nods.

So what was the correlation between the opening paragraph and the following ones, I hear you say? Well, as Paul was going to conclude the lesson, he asked the collective group about how they felt the lesson had went. As the group I was situated in agreed that we felt good about our involvement, I was shocked to have learned that the other groups were not as happy. To my further surprise, they stated that the contents of their envelope, the body language and the general replies from Paul to their table was nothing short of constant negativity and ignorance. It was here that it started to click that the last hour was essentially a social experiment used to evidence how the attitude and actions of a professional, in the form of Paul, could both hurt and dent a student’s moral towards both their product and general mindset. This was confirmed by the man himself as he stated that he deliberately altered his whole personnel when interacting with the different tables.

It was through this short, yet powerful, workshop that I realised the bottom line that will be present in my career moving forward. There will be a natural desire to want to show more loyalty and warmth to ‘straight A‘ students than those who are dragging along behind. That loyalty and warmth? That’s bias. It is not fair to show more commitment or encouragement to one pupil over that of another. School is not a place to show inequalities, it should be a place where children have equal opportunity to learn through education. That starts with the teachers. Whilst some of my colleagues might have left the workshop with the opinion that the hour we spent was a colossus waste of time, I left with the acknowledgement that no child should be treated different due to the surface appearance that they’re lagging behind. A child’s situation may be down to the background that they’re arriving to school from. Judging them is not fair. Judging them is not fair. That is biased.

1 thought on “A Lesson in Structural Inequalities

  1. Derek Robertson

    I always like to be one of the tutors delivering this session. I like what you say about what this means for you as a teacher and your duty to all learners. It’s also helpful to think about the wider context of structural inequality in terms of groups in society who don’t have ‘resources’ and who are then further marginalised by other aspects of society that in turn isolates and penalises them and possibly perpetuates inequalities.

    Reply

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