Monday, July 13, 2015

Cognitive Dissonance, Testing and the Need to Face Our History: Guest Post by Aixa Rodriguez

"In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.[1][2]" Wikipedia

In watching the coverage of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Bosnia,  the efforts to identify victims with DNA was mentioned. Twenty years later, these victims are still unidentified and not resting in peace. The reality that some people still have difficulty calling it what it was , a genocide, is a problem. Other words are used to coverup the reality of the monstrous deeds.To this day, according to what Christianne Amapour said, there have yet to be serious actions taken to "denazify" the government, or to have a "truth and reconciliation".

Think on this, the language she used alludes to the Holocaust and Apartheid era South Africa. Are these events in history taught well in our nation's schools? How quickly would the association have been made by today's high school graduates? I wager not quickly, and at a low percentage.

Thinking on cognitive dissonance, I believe this is the problem with facing ugly things. It is the reason people seek to explain away ugly things. It is the reason word of what is happenning in DR is increasingly being explained away. It is the reason why ugly vicious vigilante justice that is obviously wrong is being explained away as propaganda and bad journalism. The violence itself, the video footage of brutality is never addressed. It is hard to face realities that don't match your beliefs about yourself , your people, your culture. But it must be confronted. The greatest heroes have woken up and fought to make the ideals of their country real.

After tragedies, the reality of evil committed must be exposed. In this way, we honor the dead, we hold perpetrators accountable, we learn the who what where why and how if incidents. If we do not do this, if our discomfort leads to denial, or stalling in taking action, perpetrators get away with heinous actions, repeat them in other locations, infect the next generation with hate and continue the evil into the future. Like an infected wound, it must be cleaned up, before it is sewn up.

America has trouble facing its history. The real tragedy of standardized tests is how the pressure of these tests narrows curriculum necessitating cuts to history curriculum. Teachers have to make choices as to what will be covered and what will not be covered. As you can imagine many forces impact these choices. The problem comes when important but difficult events in history are glossed over, mentioned briefly, or ignored entirely "because its not on the test" when really it is because it is unpleasant, uncomfortable, or shows the actions of government in an unfavorable light.

I believe that cognitive dissonance is also behind the push back against ethnic studies in public schools. Refusal,excuses and outright censoring of such precious knowledge is an obstacle to healing, to uniting people across racial, ethnic and linguistic lines.

Cognitive dissonance is also behind the need to blame victims of police brutality and violence. People try to reconcile lessons in kindergarten about friendly local police officers with the cop who hit, kick, choke, and kill. The assassination if the victim's character is an important tool in this effort.

Even the fight to keep the confederate flag is connected to cognitive dissonance. There are those who truly see nothing wrong with a symbol that contains a message of white supremacy and hate. There are those who scrambled to explain away the flag. To make excuses for it. Those who adopted it as part of their style, wearing it on their person but don't want to be considered racist fought the hardest. Excuses of heritage, culture  etc. etc. were made. They had difficulty processing the symbol had meaning for others. They wanted to explain it away.

We need to not explain away and rationalize anymore. We need to collectively FACE our History. This means if something is uncomfortable, we need to keep researching and demanding answers, clarifying and holding perpetrators of evil and violence accountable.  We need to purposefully educate ourselves and others about what has happened and what is happening, so we can clearly see patterns and recognize truth.
We need to push beyond the cognitive dissonance and   prevent, protect, punish, learn and restore civility and humanity.