Tuesday, 9 February 2016

What would it take? Being in principle convincible...

Dear Reader,

Have you ever felt that your opinion is completely fixed on something, and nothing will ever change your mind?

Have you asked yourself why that is?

Being a scientist -  living life by the general principle of empiricism -  means that (broadly speaking), you are 'in principle convincible'. (I thought I'd made that up, but in fact it comes from Jill Paton Walsh's 'Knowledge of Angels', a truly remarkable book).

In other words, you have considered the evidence on a particular issue, weighed it up, and reached a conclusion that is a movable feast.  If more evidence were to come to light, you would be willing to revise your ideas.  How very reasonable.

Does that sound like you?

In reality, this is not how we think at all.

We use feelings and intuition (this feels right/wrong to me), cultural cognition (I identify with this group, so I share their views), and confirmation bias (I see the evidence that confirms my initial impression, and ignore evidence that contradicts it).  There are good evolutionary reasons for this, of course - we often don't have time or energy to weigh up evidence, and require short-cuts to help us form opinions.

The problem comes when we close our minds so much that we never change them.

I was thinking about this problem in relation to the College of Teaching debate, which I have spoken about before.  There has been an attempt to set up an organisation on behalf of teachers, which has not received widespread support from teachers so far.

Some have suggested it has sinister aims, or is simply the government masquerading under false pretences.  Others have asserted that it has been set up by teachers for teachers and is nothing of the sort.  Ordinary teachers need to consider the evidence and make up their own minds.  They are often cynical because there have been SO many failed initiatives and attempts to manipulate them in the past.  However, like a coin toss, we must recognise the independence from previous attempts.  No matter how many tails have come up in the past, we must reset our expectations and consider the evidence fairly from both sides.

So, what would it take?

Consider the thought-experiment where YOU are setting up such an organisation.  How would you go about it?  How would you convince others you were legitimate?  What would it look like?  This brings to mind all sorts of ideas as to how we receive information through the media and how we accept or deny the truth of such information.

Logically, you can't have it both ways.  Either the organisation is run by teachers (mostly, because teaching is an exhausting job anyway) who, you'd expect, have little knowledge of PR and media manipulation, as well as very little budget - or, it's run by professionals, with a big marketing budget (from sponsorship/government/commercial interests?).

I'm no expert, but it looks more like the former than the latter to me, based on the evidence.

I remain, however, in principle convincible.  Please tweet your ideas and information and let me know if  I'm (inevitably) missing something from the debate so far.

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