National African-American Parent Involvement Day – February 11th


For the record, I am not African-American; my ancestors hale from Norway, Ireland, Scotland and England. As a male, I find myself a part of the statistical white male dominant culture. So is it presumptuous or even offensive for me to be posting about African-American Parent Involvement?

To be honest, I don’t know. But I do know that by saying nothing I only perpetuate a number of problems plaguing our Champaign community today. So I am saying something, and hopefully it will not be too horrible.

We have a problem with racism. If you are black, white, brown, yellow, red or even purple, you also have a problem with racism. Maybe you are the victim. Maybe you are the oppressor. In some cases, you might not even know how it is affecting you. Today I watched a pretty amazing presentation (although it was quite long) that taught me about “implicit bias”, “institutionalized racism” and the “school to prison pipeline”. Wait! Before you totally dismiss this post, I have a cool video for you (it is hosted on YouTube, so be careful):

Count the number of passes


This video is featured by one of the first panelists of the 2012 National Black Caucus of State Legislators Annual Conference. The entire Black Caucus C-SPAN video, clocking in at 2 hours and 18 minutes, really does an excellent job of explaining the often inadvertent ways our brains makes snap judgements  and more specifically, how we have been programmed to have certain biases. I found the argument to be quite scary, because it very much makes sense in our “modern” society. And it is all the more sad for being true.


We have a system of multiple, complicated variables. We have variables that, according to the panelists, say “black is bad and white is good.” Note that this is a gross generalization – I can find a number of examples where white is bad and black is good. But the point is that statistically, discipline is meted out more often to African-Americans and even Latinos, while at the same time expectations of achievement for these groups remain low. In some ways, we have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. The panelists talk about how the “Zero Tolerance” policy has had tremendously deleterious effects. It very much reminds me of the so-called “War on Drugs” as painted by Michelle Alexander in her book “The New Jim Crow”. The panelists and moderator build up a very sound explanation of how this turns into a pipeline directly from school to jail to prison.


Why are we ok with this system?


So here is why I am promoting NAAPID. It’s not about saying black folks need to better connect with their kids. It’s more about how we all need to realize the importance of cooperating and acknowledging each other, how we all have strengths and weaknesses. This is Black History Month; a month that celebrates the sacrificial heroics of not only facing the oppressor, but effecting change for those oppressed.


Unit 4 will have some interesting things going on next week – check out the list.


4 Responses to “National African-American Parent Involvement Day – February 11th”

  1. Karen Says:

    How is good task vigilence a bias? (referring to the video)

  2. pattsi Says:

    Karen, the point that the speaker who showed this particular video was underlining has to do with the narrowness of view causing us to miss the bigger picture and integrating the intersection of this with the psychological research/articles that have shown how this points to the concept of implicit bias. I encourage everyone who reads this blog to what the C-SPAN program, particularly the opening statements by the four panelist.

  3. charlesdschultz Says:

    I do not recall “task vigilance” (if you could provide a timestamp in the video, I’ll watch it again). However, I do remember Sharon Davies point about our brains focusing so narrowly on one thing (task vigilance?) that our brains totally miss and filter out other incoming data. When I heard that in combination with the other points made by the panelists, it dawned on me that sometimes (and perhaps far too often) we form a snap judgement (or bias) based on insufficient data. That’s the way we are wired. The trick is to recognize the neural efficiencies and algorithms in order to seek out more input. One of the later panelists talked about her experience as a cop and as Chief and how during training, they have to forge new pathways for firing neurons to get around false positives that can lead to faulty knee-jerk reactions. It is indeed training.

    For me it comes home when I hear about suspensions and expulsions in our high schools. What is the first thing you (you in general, all of you) think about when you hear about a expulsion hearing? Is it “What horrible thing did that child do in order to get to this point?” You don’t even know who the child is or what they did, yet you already think they did something really bad. Just hearing about an expulsion hearing fires off some emotional tripwires.

  4. Karen Says:

    Task vigilance is not specifically mentioned, but, that is what you are tasked with doing with that test.
    I understand what they are trying to point out, but, it’s over-simplified to the point that it’s almost meaningless.

    Among other things, we would be very inefficient in most of what we do if we did not rely upon heuristics. Your example of the high school expulsion hearing. What is our cognitive schema of an expulsion hearing? Accurately, a serious matter not just randomly happening to a student out of the blue. What are the base rates? How many students get to that level of student discipline for doing something benign? It’s a ‘smart’ heuristic to assume something bad is at the center of the hearing. I don’t have time just now to refresh my memory on all of this stuff, but, it’s not so straightforward to label ‘bias’–the complexity of it goes far beyond the the colloquial recognition and use of the term:

    ‘Herbert Simon developed a wonderful analogy based on a pair of scissors, where one blade is cognition and the other is the structure of the environment, or the task. You only understand how human behavior functions if you look at both sides.

    Evolutionary thinking gives us a useful framework for asking some interesting questions that are not often posed. For instance, when I look at a certain heuristic — like when people make a decision based on one good reason while ignoring all others — I must ask in what environmental structures that heuristic works, and where it does not work. This is a question about ecological rationale, about the adaptation of heuristics, and it is very different from what we see in the study of cognitive illusions in social psychology and of judgment decision-making, where any kind of behavior that suggests that people ignore information, or just use one or two pieces of information, is coded as a bias. That approach is non-ecological; that is, it doesn’t relate the mind to its environment.

    An important future direction in cognitive science is to understand that human minds are embedded in an environment. This is not the usual way that many psychologists, and of course many economists, think about it. There are many psychological theories about what’s in the mind, and there may be all kinds of computations and motives in the mind, but there’s very little ecological thinking about what certain cognitive strategies or emotions do for us, and what problems they solve. One of the visions I have is to understand not only how cognitive heuristics work, and in which environments it is smart to use them, but also what role emotions play in our judgment. We have gone through a kind of liberation in the last years. There are many books, by Antonio Damasio and others, that make a general claim that emotions are important for cognitive functions, and are not just there to interrupt, distract, or mislead you. Actually, emotions can do certain things that cognitive strategies can’t do, but we have very little understanding of exactly how that works.’ (I think this was from 2003).

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