Day #7 of the March SOL – Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell – a rumination or two

I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Talking to Strangers. This is not the first book of Gladwell’s I’ve read and it certainly won’t be the last.

Gladwell is masterful at building an argument, even if at first it’s not easy to follow where he’s going. At least, that has been my experience.

Gladwell claims that the behaviors, gestures and words of strangers don’t always match the kind of person they are inside and that we are often wrong about the judgements we make about people we don’t know. He provides plenty of examples of this in his book.

Furthermore, sporadic or one time face-to-face contact doesn’t necessarily help us know who the stranger in front of us really is.

To that end, he pieces together multiple examples, throughout history, of mistakes made when judging other people and how these mistakes had a detrimental impact on the outcomes of these events. Outcomes that shaped people’s lives and world histories.

In the classroom, we are sometimes baffled by the mismatch between the behaviors and words students use to express themselves. This is especially true at the beginning of the year and more pronounced when a student doesn’t look like us.

As a result, we make assumptions about our students that are often wrong because we don’t take the time to listen and observe. We use hearsay to make quick judgments about who our students are, especially at the beginning of the year, that are sometimes hard to dispel later on.

I’m thinking it’s those hard to read students that are ones we need to observe closely. We will make mistakes, but we can’t dismiss opportunities to make connections and to take a step back before passing judgement.

As I write, I realize how much of a challenge this has been for me over the last couple of years of teaching, first online and now in person, with all of the limitations involved. Sometimes in the rush of doing all the things we are told to do, we lose sight of all that’s important: listening, not passing judgement right away, speaking privately with a child, finding connections, probing and trying to understand our students to show we care.

I know this can be challenging on the best of days, but we owe it to ourselves and to our students to listen, observe and to take a step back.

It’s what I’m planning to do tomorrow.

Cross posted to the Two Writing Teachers March Slice of Life Story Challenge.

2 thoughts on “Day #7 of the March SOL – Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell – a rumination or two

  1. I love this post! I haven’t read Talking to Strangers yet, but it’s on my list, and your slice is making me move it up closer to the top. It is such a challenge to wait, to give people more time to reveal themselves. We’re pushed to make those snap judgments … and then to believe that first impressions mean everything. We could all, surely, benefit from the extra time it might take for someone to really see us, for us to see them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And Gladwell uses a lot of examples from policing situations gone wrong. What I didn’t like about his book is that he doesn’t address racism in a transparent way. He does that in the afterword, but not everyone reads those!


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