The fall semester of 2020 commenced during a tumultuous time in the world, not just in here in the US. After a spending a summer at home socially distancing, eyes glued to the media following the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, I knew that I needed to do things differently in this unprecedentedly unique semester. The more I read about anti-racism, the more committed I became to changing my approach to content coverage in my cognitive psychology classes. I have always taught course content with an eye towards application, but I have also always followed the status-quo when it comes to covering topics like racism, discrimination, and prejudice. And that convention has been that such topics are for “social” classes in the Psychology curriculum, not “cognitive” ones. I believed it was time to change that.
As I sat down to reconfigure course content, I found that it wasn’t near the stretch I’d imagined to re-align content, flow, and projects to help us all find a sense of social-justice-purpose in our work. I included in the course syllabus this statement:
We are coming together as a class at a moment in socio-historical time where lives are in upheaval. Internationally, the Corona Virus Pandemic has changed life in irrevocable ways. At the national level the deep injustice of systemic racism is at the fore of political unrest. Families are struggling with economics, child care, health care, and schooling. How do we understand and respond to all this? Though the central topic of our course is cognition, thinking doesn’t happen in a socio-cultural vacuum. The cognitive processes that enable the growth of knowledge also open the door for the growth of bias that can turn into sexism and racism. With that as backdrop, this semester topics covered are selected to help us understand how bias develops, so that we can take steps towards mitigating it. As a class, we will create a guide for how to raise good and just kids.
Students were intrigued and eager to start learning with purpose in this way. Early on the semester when the #ScholarStrike call came out, I decided to follow the “teach-in” call and dedicate my class periods to the moment and discuss anti-racism from my own perspective as both a person and as a cognitive psychology scholar. This was an effective serendipity, and I believe the time spent in class focusing on this issue really made the class adjustments work. As students continued to learn the basic content of Cognitive Psychology (in this class, the emphasis was on cognitive development), they wrote essays on how to use the material to inform either an anti-racist, anti-sexist, or anti-ableist perspective. They wrote drafts, formed collaborative teams, and revised their writings. They made visual content to illustrate their work as well, and some of it is also represented here. The end result of their hard work is this e-book, containing explanation and advice on how to improve your practice in raising your children in an anti-racist, anti-sexist, or anti-ableist framework.
Not only did enrolled students learn the basics of cognitive development, but they more importantly came away from the course with a clear understanding about how to put this knowledge to good use. We are all eager to share our work with you. It is our hope that the sense of purpose we took away from the semester is transferred to you, our readers. Though these student-authors are still learning, the advice they offer is empirically based and sound. Within each topical section you will note some overlap in content (all students learned from the same sources, after all), however each collaborative writing team took their work in a unique direction. You are sure to learn something new from each entry.
Happy reading. As I write this introduction at the end of the calendar year, I am filled with a sense of hope for the imminent New Year. With knowledge comes power, and we all have the power to make our world a better place.
Dr. Erica Kleinknecht
December 29th, 2020