Looking around the room at all of the attendants at the ASD Summer Institute I see mostly women. Mostly white women. In Minneapolis we teach mostly children of color and mostly boys in the autism programs and for that matter in my own program for students with EBD. I think as educators we try very hard to provide the very best services to our students but it is interesting that in serving such a diverse population we do not have a more diverse representation in the adults providing the services and in the research we are looking to when we develop our strategies. Although, I will say there is more of a male representation in the research. I know this is not anything new. White women have been the predominant face of education for quite some time now. I think one exciting thing that is happening to diversify the face of our educators is the new program that the University of St Thomas has recently begun enrolling for.
Our first presenter was Kari Dunn Buron. She wrote the Incredible 5 Point Scale. Her talk was entitled “Ain’t Just Misbehavin'” and discussed viewing behavior through a different lense. She touched on development of social cognition, executive function, emotional regulation, and social anxiety. One interesting quote she included was, “The words we use to describe a behavior influences how we think about the behavior. This is important because: How you think about behavior determines what you will do about it”. I believe the quote can be attributed to Ross Greene.
To demonstrate the effects of executive functioning Dunn Buron discussed the Marshmallow Test which was a study conducted in the 1970’s at Stanford. The study looked at four year olds and their ability to delay gratification when presented with a marshmallow and told if they waited to eat it they could get a second. The results of the study showed that after 14 years those children that distracted themselves from eating the marshmallow and waited until the adult returned had more success than the children who could not wait. Those who waited out scored the others on SATs by 210 points and at age 30 had better outcomes in jobs and health. The conclusion was that a this study is more predictive than parent’s education level or IQ.
So, Dunn Buron chose to show us this video of the Marshmallow Test. Which shows only white children most of whom have blonde hair. The assumption we are left with is that this is the population the study was done on. I immediately felt like the conclusions drawn may be questionable. How does this research apply to my students? Does it apply? If it does, how much does it apply and what are we missing from this be not including children of color in the study? To me we run the same risks when we do not include the voices of people of color in our conversations around education. What are we missing out on? We may be doing great work but how could we be doing even better work?
I did come across this video which depicts a bit more diversity but I have no idea if this is a true replication of the study as in they follow these four children and track their successes in the next 30 years or if this is just a snapshot of some kids eating or resisting the urge to eat a marshmallow. If this is just a funny video of kids with a marshmallow then we have no idea if or how the diversity of the group would effect the outcomes. In my mind, worthless.
What is interesting is that with further research into the Marshmallow Test I learned that it originated with a study done in Trinidad to look at stereotypes different ethnic groups on the island had about one another. This was a more diverse sample in this case but does not follow the subjects into adulthood. Instead it examines presence of fathers and socioeconomic groups. Various groups have replicated the Marshmallow Test in different ways including looking at trust to see if how much trust the child has for the adult changes whether they eat the marshmallow. I could probably spend some more time looking into this which I probably will but for now this brief presentation of the study has left me with many more questions than answers and I believe the presenter really just wanted us to get the point that the children who were able to distract themselves were more successful overall and that the skill of staying focused on your task without getting hopelessly distracted, frustrated or angry is an executive functioning skill.
I spent quite a bit of time considering the lack of diversity of my field today. What if my own educational experience had been put together, studied, and taught by predominantly black men? What if I had grown up in a different country and was a minority in their education system? What if I had not seen women like me reflected in the world of education? Would I even be pursuing this field? And then I think about how the recent trend has been to look to Finland and their amazing education system. How diverse is Finland? Is their system working because they are a more homogenous group? We can not continue to go forward leaving out the voices of the diverse groups of people who make up the majority of our student body. I hope that along the way this summer in all of the trainings I am attending I see some diversity in presenters because I know that to do my job better I need diverse perspectives.