Eons ago, this capability [to stereotype based on appearance] was of life-and-death importance, and humans developed the ability to gauge other people within seconds.
Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton, said that traditionally, most stereotypes break down into two broad dimensions: whether a person appears to have malignant or benign intent and whether a person appears dangerous. “In ancestral times, it was important to stay away from people who looked angry and dominant,” she said.
Monday, April 27, 2009
"The important thing is never to stop questioning."
- Albert Einstein
Today was the first class of a new quarter at the school where I teach. I love starting over every three months. I know a little more and can respond to questions more quickly and with greater authority. I anticipate problems and address them before they come up. But even though this is my seventh or eighth time teaching the same class (I've changed books and assignments as necessary), I still find myself impressed and surprised by each group of students.
It's easy to stereotype. In fact, according to the New York Times, it's evolutionary:
But I can't tell anything about my students by looking at them. Each new group of students is full of quirky individuals with 18 - 30 years of experience informing their attitudes, and those attitudes only begin to reveal themselves on the first day. I ask them about previous writing experiences, I ask them to respond to an essay we read in class, and I even ask them about the last book they read.
Granted: I'm a bit of a softie. I just love playing a part in their education. (One student graduated from my high school four years before I did!) I'm much harder on myself than I am on others, and sometimes I think that I and my students alike would benefit from a shift in that regard (be less of a softie, more of a hard ass); regardless, as my friend told me back when I was teaching a summer school class to 3rd graders and questioning my skills, "Everyone can use some positive encouragement."
People do have the capacity to change. I go back and forth on this, at least in regard to my own capacity, but it has to be true. I think back to all those "first days" in grade school and even junior and senior high, where I would throw up out of nervousness. Or those second, third, and fiftieth days, curling up in the corner of the playground because I was too shy to find someone to play with or talk to. So when I wasn't sitting there, obsessing over my inability to MOVE, I was watching people - their behavior, their interactions, how they spoke to one another. I still dream of being invisible, moving ghost-like among people and seeing how they really are, returning to my observant past; but it's much better now. Being among the living. Still slightly neurotic, but physically present.