371: Writing and Bias

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Everyone knows that people are biased. This is for a variety of reasons, but people usually can’t help it, because you read what is written through your own personal lenses of experience, culture and values. This tends to mean that your own personal views come into play when you read something someone else has written. For me, it kicks in when I listen to political speeches. My B-S detector usually goes off the charts. I have a tremendous bias towards politicians. Of any affiliation. But, I digress……

Bias when reading or writing is a problem for teachers and students alike. Teachers need to discard personal opinion bias when reading and evaluating student papers, and students need to learn to present their persuasive arguments as efficiently, logically and unemotionally as they possibly can. Let’s be realistic: the entire purpose of a persuasive paper is to convince the reader that your point of view is valid. Your biases figure in to your point of view, right? The problem is when you are the teacher GRADING these persuasive papers. Your personal biases need to be parked at the door, and you need to ruthlessly kick their sorry butts back out when they try to sneak in while you are grading.

I fairly often ask my students to write an essay on the person they admire most, living or dead, early on in the school year to check their formatting, mostly. Jesus Christ and Hitler are equally valid choices, depending on the strength and clarity of your arguments, regardless of how I personally feel about either one. If you as the teacher open the door on a free-choice prompt, you’d better be equal to the task of dealing with the results, without blowing your personal gasket.

I made a “F” in a college creative writing class. The professor teaching this class at the University of Georgia in the late 1970’s was harshly critical of everything I wrote in this class, to the point that I began to wonder if it really was my writing, or if he just did not like ME. The final assignment was a research paper, and I chose to analyze an Edgar Allen Poe poem, because I wrote one in high school that I KNEW was an excellent paper.  The professor gave me an F on the paper, and an F in the course. I did not contest the grade, because I did write the paper, but I wrote it in high school, not as a college freshman. That is self plagiarism, even if I did actually write the paper in question – I did not write it for the class in question. His tearing it to shreds confirmed my judgment of him, not his judgment of me.

I have tried very hard never to do the same to any student I have taught, am teaching, or will teach, regardless of my opinion of them as a human being (questionable identification, in some cases).

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