I love a good story, well who doesn’t? Good storytelling is good for the soul, helps us make sense of ourselves and connect to a wider world.
Stories enable us to see chaos where there is randomness, it affords us meaning, a sense of control of an uncertain world. Some evolutionary psychologists argue that storytelling is a means of keeping our species alive, a way of warning others of dangers yet to come.
A redeeming feature of humanity is our ability to apply a narrative and anthropomorphise innate objects. When participants were asked to watch a short film involving two circles, a triangle and a rectangle moving around a screen; 33 out of 34 participants created a narrative where the triangle was ‘frustrated’ – the circle was ‘worried’ and the little shape was ‘innocent’.
Stories also help develop our emotional intelligence. We can empathise with the characters, see inside their minds. Some people say that those who read fiction are good at reading other people’s emotions. They clearly have a greater insight into another’s psychological processes but let us not get too fanciful. I like Agatha Christie novels, it does not necessarily make me a suitable candidate to become forensic investigator. (Although, in this particular fantasy life I am a mix between the burning injustice of Quincy and the bumbling schtick of Columbo).
However, there is also a dark side to our use of stories. Sometimes, we tell ourselves stories to reaffirm our existing prejudice, to support our own bias and bolster our own ego. Then we tell these stories to others, who parrot them back to us and depending on our position, they become gospel – the final word, drowning out the quieter voices. The quieter voices (in our heads and outside) give up and accept the louder narrative.
Irving L. Janis refers to this phenomenon as groupthink, where people set aside their own personal beliefs or adopt the opinion of the majority. A superficial form of conformity but clear evidence of the existence of a group mind and the impact of situational factors.
I guess I am left wondering what sort of stories we tell ourselves about our professional practice as teachers. Do we suffer from groupthink? How many of these stories are fiction? How much is based on experience and fact? How much of the narrative is about making sense out of the unknown? How many of the stories are used to reaffirm an existing bias or bolster our self-esteem?
What stories have we been telling ourselves about marking without considering the opportunity cost of our actions? What stories do we weave about student progress? What stories are we telling about student progress this academic year, when in reality we have a new specification and unknown grade boundaries? What stories are used for curriculum design when deciding what is best for young people? What stories do we tell about young people that further individualises their failure?
Are these stories a force for good or bad? Do they provide a golden thread, an arc that links the different parts of our work or a redeeming narrative against which we can plot our course? Or do they foster a bias? Do they create a groupthink? Do they keep us afloat at times of change?
I hope I am brave enough to examine my own biases and challenge the stories that I tell myself.
bias (There are a few grammar errors in the following song).
I’m biased because I knew it all along… hindsight bias… I knew it all along.
I’m biased because I put you in a category which yo may or may not belong…
representativeness bias don’t stereotype this song
I’m biased because of a small detail that throws off the big picture of the thing…
anchoring bias see the forest for the trees
I’m biased toward the first example that comes to my mind…
availability bias to the first thing that comes to mind
Oh oh bias don’t let bias into your mind
Bias don’t try this…
it’ll influence you thinking
and memories, don’t mess with these
but you’re guilty of distorted thinking
With a cognitive bias your mind becomes blinded to decisions and problems and you’ve
been forced to solve them wrongly.
I’m biased because I’ll only listen to what I agree with… confirmation bias … you’re narrow-minded if you are this
I’m biased because I take credit for success but no blame for failure…
self-serving bias… my success and your failure
I’m biased when I remember things they way I would’ve expected them to be…
expectancy bias false memories are shaped by these
I’m biased because I think my opinion now was my opinion then…
self-consistency bias but you felt different way back when