Newsletter 6, May, 2017
Challenging Beliefs – Not So Easy
Teachers who work with troubled students are well aware of the importance of the children’s belief system. There is no surprise that these students have an expectation of failure at every level and for the vast majority, their belief about their academic ability is insignificant compared to the importance for them to survive physically and socially.
Beliefs about the world are built from experience. When a certain stimulus occurs a chosen action will get an expected result. So when we are faced with a situation that needs to be addressed we believe something will happen based on what happened in the past.
For most of us this ability to know what will happen, a sort of long range detection device works well and the better people can predict the more intelligent they are deemed to be. The consistent narrative gives us a fundamental view of the world, a sense of consistency, control and cohesion – conditions that give us confidence in the future. In fact all learning is based on the ability to predict so beliefs are crucial.
But for our belief system to be ‘intelligent’ it must be based on reality, that illusive condition that would rely on precise and objective analysis of what is really happening. This precision is hard enough in the objective sciences but extremely difficult in the social fields. A further complexity is that most of these social beliefs are imparted by our parents and have no direct link to the child’s reality. The power of these hand-me-down beliefs can be seen in the religious wars that have raged, and still rage across the globe. People die for their beliefs!
It is obvious that beliefs operate independent of sensory data and will persist in the face of contrary data. They do so because having beliefs, no matter how much they clash with reality provide reason for what is happening, can determine the cause of why things are as they are and underpin our principles.
It is hard enough to take account of our beliefs as adults, every night we see intelligent adults arguing about the current political system. It is easy to lampoon some of the more colorful characters, the USA have a textbook case who when confronted with evidence provides ‘alternative facts’ to maintain his belief system. Change is hard and evidence is insufficient. There has to be a strong emotional component along with evidence to allow a significant change in important life sustaining beliefs.
So we return to these kids we work to support. Their belief of themselves is:
- I’m worthless
- I'm hopeless
- No one cares about me
- I am a failure
The list goes on and why wouldn’t they think that? When their belief system was being formed they experience all those conditions. Kids can’t be expected to understand the reality that they have been abused and/or neglected and being kids they believe it is their fault.
So be patient with these kids. Providing evidence is not enough nor is providing security in the short term. I believe that over time with a structured, supportive predictable environment they will develop a new set of beliefs that will allow them to function in our society.