I think the recent article, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds” from the New Yorker, is a must read. Elizabeth Kolbert explores how, once they are formed, beliefs are remarkably difficult to change, referencing fascinating research. The article has me reflecting on how teachers come to believe things about education, and how they may or may not change their minds.
In the last few months, I’ve been in many tense discussions of education, politics, religion, and more. Kolbert’s article is a good reminder that, in conversations where beliefs run deep, it’s a rare thing to change another human’s mind. When someone does change their mind, it is rarely because of the volume of research evidence presented, or the passion with which an argument is made. It’s much more often because of open dialogue and through mutual respect. Opinions are a funny thing.
While I believe in best practices that I find important in my teaching, another core value of my pedagogy is to avoid dogma. I’ve had to remind myself recently that, while this means I disagree with plenty of teachers on questions in education, everyone is doing the best they can. It’s often unhelpful to start arguments with people about deeply entrenched beliefs. I may have strong opinions on learning styles, differentiation, standards-based grading, the Common Core, cognitive science in teaching, inquiry vs explicit instruction, homework, encouraging growth mindset, and more. And I may believe that those ideas are based on facts and evidence. But most of my beliefs about teaching have changed in the last few years. Many will change again. I have trouble changing my mind when conflicting evidence comes around — those changes happen slowly, over time, and rarely because of one conversation.
If I’m being honest, any particular idea I try to push into the head of another human probably matters far less than I think it does. Teachers who disagree with me are unlikely to be doing any harm to their students. They are likely to really believe in what they do, bring an enormous amount of passion and knowledge into their classroom, and want what is best for their students. And I’m unlikely to change their minds anyway.
All this is to say that I want to focus my energy on learning, on engaging in dialogue with other teachers interested in learning, and on building relationships based on mutual respect. I want to recognize that many arguments I might choose to engage in are likely to alienate people who think differently than me. And I want to remember that everyone is doing the best they know how, every day.