Recognising the Effect of Personal Bias as a Teacher and Homeschooling Parent
© Beverley Paine, September 2004
I find myself often frustrated by my children's behaviour, especially when I believe it is running counter to my expectations or desires. What actually is happening is that I am interpreting my children's behaviour or comments, and my interpretation is coloured by my past experiences, values, attitudes, emotional state, and personal standards. This often influences what I believe my children are saying or doing. If I hold some awareness in my mind that these elements are affecting my interpretations I am more able to listen and respond with understanding and empathy.
Both Robin and I are able students and were high achievers at school. We set particularly high standards for ourselves in every area of our lives. I find that our past experiences come into play all too often when interacting with our children. We don't always react or respond to what is happening now , we sometimes bring emotions into play that belong firmly in the past. We may be reacting with frustration or anger or hurt from past events, colouring the present moment with unresolved angst. The opposite occurs too - where we want our children to experience things we really loved and enjoyed, and have this expectation that they will too.
For example, I loved literature, and still do, and used to push this on to my children. Imagine my dismay when two of my children were 'late readers', and April steadfastly refused to read anything I recommended. For years I fretted about their 'abilities' and wondered if they would ever develop reading comprehension skills... My behaviour toward them almost wounded their self esteems with respect to reading and enjoying texts. Luckily I became aware, just in time!
My tendency to interpret my children's behaviour according to my expectations is especially important for me to be aware of when I inadvertantly stereotype my children. All parents do this! For example, from years of interpreting Roger's behaviour I expect him to be stubborn, and unconciously look for behaviour that confirms this interpretation of his behaviour. As a result I set up an expectation that he will behave this way, thus unconsciously encouraging him to be so! It is very important to guard against the tendency to colour what I see with my personal biases.
Another equally important point to add here is the effect of cultural bias. This is harder to detect but has the affect of transmitting bias from one generation to another - sometimes undesirable biases that I may have been working hard to eliminate in the curriculum, but unconsiously reinforcing. The easiest example for me to illustrate this with is sexism. Although I work hard to present an non-sexist environment and study program I tended to expect April to be able to scan read and research faster than her brothers, to be able to type and complete her work quicker. While this may be true, I often attribute it to her gender, instead of her individual learning style and ability.
It is exceedingly difficult to observe behaviour without intepreting it this way. I've been told off so many times for always analysing everything! But I've found that close observation and analysis of what's happening in all out lives has been the key to my successful parenting and homeschooling practice. Through this approach I've been able to help my children learn what it is they want to learn, when and how. Patience is something I've had to cultivate. Like many other parents I want my children to be competent in all areas as soon as possible. It is truly hard to appreciate the role of childhood in our lives - the rush to adulthood is all pervasive. Sometimes I think homeschooling parents are especially guilty of this trait, with an emphasis on children learning as much as they can during childhood, as though once they become adults the ability to learn becomes stunted or dwindles with age. I don't believe that.
I constantly question why I think and act the way I do. I respond to the children's actions and behaviours with the same questioning approach. I'm forever seeking newer or better or more efficient ways of achieving our goals. First though, I have to identify those goals. Goals that are rooted in personal need, rather than want, and reflect the deeper identity of the person, not the superficial situation or circumstances they find themselves in or cultural bias. It's all too easy to react to life instead of creating it the way we need it to be in order to thrive as healthy and happy human beings.
Beverley Paine is a mother of three young adults and a prolific writer of homeschooling articles. More articles and essays can be found in her books, available from the Always Learning Books online bookstore.
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine
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