The Oatmeal: You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you

Though this comic from The Oatmeal does not specifically relate to any social justice issues, it does provide an accessible explanation of our mental processes that we should all be aware of when discussing hot-button issues (or implementing critical pedagogy). Specifically, it describes the backfire effect, which is a neurological fear-response which can end up strengthening our strongly-held beliefs when we are confronted with opposing facts. If we are more aware of our brains’ knee-jerk reactions, we can try to put these sentiments aside and be better listeners when we’re uncomfortable with what we’re hearing.

Though this comic introduces the concept of the backfire effect in a clear and entertaining way, this resource would only be appropriate for classroom use in certain circumstances. Obviously, the profanity in the comic would not be appropriate in some contexts. The main issue, however, is that this comic is clearly geared toward an American audience, so many of the facts that are supposed to make the reader feel uncomfortable may mean nothing to students. Nevertheless, I think this could be a good starting place. One exercise which would help students understand the uncomfortable feeling the author is trying to provoke, and which would also work as a kind of formative assessment, might be for students to generate topics from their own contexts that would be similarly uncomfortable as those from an American context, and explore the core beliefs that these might be violating. Obviously, this exercise would have to be done delicately, so as to allow students (and teacher!) to sit with the feeling of discomfort but not be overwhelmed by it or create an unsafe classroom atmosphere. However, I think the experience would be valuable in a critical pedagogy-centered classroom.

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