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Be Careful that Your Experiences Do Not Jade Your Teaching

Updated: Dec 22, 2021


Last week I went to a wonderful course. I greatly enjoyed it. It had a lot of very relevant material. The instructors were great. But... there's always a but. At one point during the course one of the instructors said, "There's only two reasons why people do X." Now we had a problem. As I sat there I thought to myself, "I do this thing, and it is not for either of the reasons they stated." Then on break I spoke to another student about it and he came up with another reason why people do that thing. After the course was over I had a long 20+ hour ride home from the American Southwest to the Midwest and with nothing but staring at the road and listening to podcasts going on I started thinking about other reasons why people do this thing and pretty soon had a decently long list of perfectly reasonable explanations. In fact, they actually said this about two things and I was coming up with innocuous explanations for both of them.


Now, during the course I remember the instructors saying something like, "We analyzed hundreds of encounters and every time X happened there was a bang afterward." Okay, so you looked at a number of instances and X occurred prior to bang. So you have a pretty good reason to say that X likely will precede the event. The question now becomes, so you analyzed let's say 500 bangs or incidents. How many non-bangs did you analyze? The point being if you look only at incidents that occur and say there is a linkage between X and this type of incident occurring and you do not look at instances where there was no bang or critical incident then you may be unnecessarily linking X and the incident.


This can become a problem with everyone, but it's a bad deal for instructors because you influence people. You are the one standing in front of the class because people think you are right. People have reasons they become jaded, or develop a bias. We all have them. Experienced professionals often develop these biases or beliefs because they had a number of experiences in which X did precede the event. As they say stereotypes exist for a reason.. But that does not mean that we get to create rules where rules do not exist. There are a few rules in the world, and most of those involve physics. "If a greater force does not act upon the object than the current force controlling its motion or lack thereof then it will continue in its current state of activity or inactivity." That's ethical. That's an inviolable law. Almost everything else, especially human nature varies.



Unless statistics say 100% of the time this preceded this then we cannot make it an absolute. Especially in the protective services or law enforcement world this can lead to dire consequences caused by an errant belief. Imagine if a student shot someone after taking your class because you said, "If a person does this it means they are going to attack you" or if you said, "There's only two reasons why people do this. They are thinking of attacking you or [insert other option here]" and that student reasonably rules out the other option, which you told them is the only other option that exists besides they are getting ready to be attacked. Now they shoot someone in self defense because they believe they are in danger, but really the only danger was to the innocent party they shot because you taught your student an untrue rule.


That is not to say that we cannot teach students that statistical analysis or anecdotal evidence does support your suggestion that they act a certain way or that they take more precaution because X had preceded bang in a number of instances and therefore if they observe X they should be more cautious. But teaching them if you rule out option 2, the only other option we individually can think of, then it must be option 1 and get ready. There's a reason in intelligence very rarely will you see an intelligence report where the analysis uses absolutes in their judgement such as "certainly, will, will not, must, 100%." That's because almost nothing in life is certain. We can have high degree of probability in many things but certainty is rare because if there is even a .0000001% that something can go differently well then it is not really certain. Ensure your teaching is academically rigorous and verifiable.

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