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High School Connections Blog by Head of High School Steve Soden

The Importance of Questioning Our Biases

In a recent 9th Grade Academy session, our 9th graders participated in mock hiring committees, evaluating resumes and discussing how applicants come across on paper. As we continued our discussion, I mentioned some laws regarding hiring practices, including questions interviewers are not allowed to ask. The 9th graders were quite surprised when I told them that one of the things I cannot do when evaluating resumes is search for images of the applicant. Such image searches are commonplace in much of the 9th graders’ existence, so they were surprised to learn that the practice was highly discouraged when looking at resumes.

As I discussed with the 9th graders, conducting image searches is discouraged because of its potential to lead to bias in the hiring process. All employers are looking to make a “safe” hire, one who they feel is sure to serve their organization well. The question, then, is what constitutes “safe” when it comes to evaluating applicants? The reality for human beings, and employers are all most certainly human beings, is that nothing seems safer than people who are just like you. The question I then posed for the 9th graders, and a question that is important for everyone to ponder is this: when we choose to only surround ourselves with people who are just like us, what do we miss?

I happened to have a related conversation with my daughter, a 3rd grader at MCDS, not long after this 9th Grade Academy session, in which she was telling me about some things she is afraid of. She eventually came to an important realization: all of her fears are “what ifs.” She is not afraid when she is actually participating; she is afraid of what might happen before she participates. An example might be the weather: the weather is not scary, but the weather forecast is. In a school setting, sitting down and taking a test is not scary, but the fear of a bad grade prior to taking the test is. The connection with the 9th grade discussion was obvious to me as I listened to my daughter talk: working with someone not like you is not scary, but passing over someone just like you in the hiring process, passing over what your implicit biases tell you the “safe” hire is, can be.

I hope that all of our students, as well as my own children, will grow up to understand the importance of questioning their own biases and fears. If they feel an emotion, especially an emotion related to other people, I want them to think about why. If their immediate reaction upon meeting someone is fear, I want them to question that fear. Similarly, if their immediate reaction is one of comfort, I want them to think about why. We all have implicit biases, and so it is crucial that we question those biases and not let an unfounded definition of safety prevent us from doing what is right and what is beneficial.

This hope is why I love that my own children attend a small school, and why I am so proud of the MCDS high school. When we talk about the power of the MCDS community, the authentic connections we have with one another are why. One of the great things of being at a small school is that students are forced to interact authentically with one another. There is an abundance of research supporting just how much of an impact a school community makes on its students’ learning. At a small school, it is functionally impossible to completely isolate yourself in a small group of friends, since you will have to interact with everyone. That authentic interaction–a willingness and a desire to truly understand where other people are coming from–is the cornerstone of educational excellence.

So, I encourage everyone to continue to continue to operate authentically within our community. Ask your children not just what they feel but why they feel it. Encourage kids to listen to perspective and question preconceived notions and biases. If we all do that, we will truly take advantage of what our community has to offer.

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