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Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us…
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Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Issues of…

by Claude M. Steele

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Women worry about the stereotype that men are better at math. African-Americans worry about the stereotype of lesser academic achievement. Whites worry about the stereotype of lesser athletic ability, or that Asians supposedly are better at math. Men going into an empathetic profession worry about stereotypes of lesser empathy. And so on. Social psycologist Claude Steele calls these stereotype threats, and just the anxiety they create can severely impede performance, as confirmed in a truckload of social experiments.

"There is truly inspirational news here: evidence that often small, feasible things done to reduce these threats in schools and classrooms can dramatically reduce the racial and gender achievement gaps that so discouragingly characterize our society."

I found this book absolutely fascinating. It discloses truths that get lost under unreasoning and misleading emotion, provides insights and information I never would have thought of, and demonstrates the healthy effects of the kinds of "small, feasible things" he mentions on people's performances in their preferred fields, and on their relating to each other. I'm grateful to Ellen for her great review of this book. It deserves widespread attention.

Something as simple as reminding "test takers of identities that counter the relevant stereotype" before a test has been shown to have a significant positive, measurable impact on test results. The one requisite: the person must care about his/her performance. We also learn that anxiety over stereotype threats actually activates non-performing parts of the brain - it literally causes the brain to use its capabilities in a non-productive way. And we'll virtually all claim, and believe, that we're not experiencing that anxiety when, in fact, we are.

Counseling in certain ways can cause dramatic change; expressing company policy in certain ways can make even a non-diverse company attractive to diverse candidates. Whites who are unconsciously chary of discussing racial issues with blacks become more open (and physically move their chairs closer!) when the exchange is framed as a learning experience. (Other positive framing cues didn't work, but that did).

This is an important book, and it's heartening that the studies described are being conducted all over the world, with results continuing to confirm the insights and productive strategies described by Claude Steele. ( )
5 vote jnwelch | Oct 24, 2017 |
This should be required reading for every educator in the U.S. and perhaps beyond. Steele, an eminent social psychologist at Stanford University (now at UC-Berkeley), described his research into stereotype thread and its impact on students' performance in a variety of situations. While much of the research focuses on the impact of stereotype threat on women in math-related fields and African-Americans in academic settings more broadly, I appreciated that some of his team's research has focused on the affect of stereotype threat on white students faced with interacting with black students regarding a racially-charged topic. The white students are also subject to stereotype threat in their desire not to be judged as racially insensitive; this confirms the broad applicability of the research without undermining the observation that, on average, it is not white students who face adverse identity contingencies in academic settings on a day-to-day basis.

He offers ways to address stereotype threat such as encouraging students engaging in intercultural dialogue to adopt a learning attitude, and teachers can create this by using learning objectives and clearly stating that learning IS the objective (reassuring students that they won't be judged based on stereotypes about their group has no positive impact at all), and that mistakes are to be expected. He also outlines some implications for mentors as well as for educational institutions for minimizing the cues that activate stereotype threat for students in negatively stereotyped groups.
And remember, this varies on context -- as a white woman I am vulnerable to stereotype threat based on my gender in some but not all situations and this depends, in part, on which of my identities is made salient in a particular situation.

I listened to this as an audiobook and found it engaging, thought-provoking, and enjoyable. I also recommend it for anyone interested in the process of social psychological research as the descriptions of the experiments and the thinking that surrounded them was fascinating and took me back to my early graduate school days. ( )
3 vote EBT1002 | Oct 4, 2017 |
The first sentence of the acknowledgements set me up for what I anticipated to be a rather brutal read. When Steele prefaced the entire work with the idea that scientists are made to create articles rather than books, I predicted that the work would present significant challenges to this quite non-science minded reader. Well, my predictions proved true, as I struggled through the bulk of the text, having to re-read certain passages numbers of times just to get the vaguest of understandings as to what was going on. The narrative structure moved things along at a pace that read somewhat smoother than a textbook, but not by much. Regardless, every bit of struggle was absolutely worth it in the end. Not only was I able to walk away with insight towards the effects of stereotypes and their detrimental effects, but I was forced to take a look at myself and the way that identity contingencies affect me. I’ve spent most of my life trying (and in my mind succeeding) to break certain stereotypes placed on me, the middle class, middle aged white guy. Now that I think that I’ve shaken this image, another falls in my lap-the old person who’s going back to school. At any rate, the text forced me to consider that perhaps I can be my own worst enemy in my attempts to break free of these threats.

Because the book deals with these threats and contingencies being so engrained into the individual, I really think Steele’s work could be a beneficial read not only to educators but to anyone with an interest towards bettering the human condition. As Steele says early on, these “identity threats…play an important role in some of society’s most important social problems” (15). As I made predictions about the work based on its subtitle and the number of groups represented on the cover, I assumed that it would focus strictly on external components f stereotyping, not the way that these threats are internalized. This is coupled with the fact that the internalizing of these if a new concept for me. I guess I expected more “hard factors” (26) as Steele puts it, factors based on social structures, etc. All considered, it proves that stereotype threats, though “often subtle enough to be beneath our awareness, can nonetheless significantly affect things as important as our functioning” (61).

Personally I found chapter six to be the most interesting as well as the most relatable. Like most guys my age (almost 40), I grew up with a generation of parents, particularly fathers, who lived by the philosophy of “just buckle down and overcome” (98). I guess I’ve never been necessarily opposed to this philosophy as I’m one to put my head down and fight my way out of anything, but as the text and research suggest, it often just isn’t that simple. The result for me was a fierce independence coupled with determination to prove to others and to myself that “I got this,” often resulting in an “over efforting” (105) that consistently proved counterproductive. Though it establishes a determined work ethic in mind and body, the effects can be of detrimental consequence, “fiercely interfering with performance” as well as making it “difficult to stay in the setting” (111).

From the perspective of a future educator, chapter nine seemed to resonate the most. What particularly stood out was the way in which the presentation of feedback was framed. Regardless of the student, the standard is set high, and every student is told that they can achieve said standard. Under the philosophy of “self-affirmation theory,” if a student’s self-image is threatened, there is still a chance to “step back, take a breath and affirm a larger valued sense of self” (173). The text is filled with loads of other ideas to put into practice as educators, but these stood out to me the most. Although the book was by far the most challenging piece that I read this semester, it was also the most fulfilling. It’s one of those books that I have difficulty in explaining to others, but it doesn’t matter because I get it. ( )
1 vote J.Davidson | May 4, 2015 |
Every teacher who is serious about HELPING their students achieve, rather than forcing them through a curriculum set, would do well to read this book. Dealing with topics like racial discrimination, stereotypes, or even self-perception is never easy, but this book helps readers see that that may be because they are all interconnected ideas. The book offers some interestinfg insight into the ways that people, consciously or not, are affected by things beyond their power to control, and how the perceptions of others often can affect people with out them even noticing it. The book also, more importantly, begins to address the more important issue of "how can teachers hep mitigate the effects of stereotypes." One of my biggest complaints about educational programs today is the constant need for the educator to be the one responsible for fixing the ills of the world, and the tendency for many programs to emphasize the problems that racism, sexism, and other prejudices have had on the American educational system, WITHOUT offerring anything in the way of solution other than forcefeeding tolerance lectures or experiences down the throats of students. The book suggests that, while the prejudice is one problem that requires this kind of approach, the scars it leaves on the psyche are not going to be removed by getting the others to think differently. It becomes the teacher's responsibility to act as both shiled and balm for these kinds of issues; I really like the idea that social scientists are working on developing actual practices that can be implemented quickly and practically in an immediate manner. The book reads really quickly too, as the author really seems as if he is sitting there talking to you about the results of his work, and could easily pull the statistical data up on his computer or out of a file somewhere if you stopped him and asked. ( )
1 vote gemerritt | May 2, 2015 |
I wanted to like this book. I wanted to find it interesting. I really did. But honestly, it bored me to tears. And I like reading boring, researched-based texts. I found Claude Steele's ideas of "stereotype threat" and " identity contingencies" interesting, but the book was a summation of his life's work, which was filled with studies whose results presented nothing necessarily surprising. In fact, this book made me realize that I spend every class sitting next to two students of different races than I am. It is not something I think about and it is not something that necessarily registers with me. But all of a sudden I'm being forced to qualify them by identifying terms when previously they were the girls I sit next to in class and whose opinions I appreciate and whose company I like. Some of my closest friends over the years have been Indian, Chinese, African American, Honduran, gay, queer, straight, cross dressers -- things I don't think about until I'm forced to. Then I'm left wondering: is important for me to think about my friends' race, sexual orientation, gender identification? I'm now left questioning the relevance of my questioning. If it's not something I considered before, why should I be considering it now?
  HadleyAdkins | Apr 30, 2015 |
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To Dorothy and, in order of their arrival in the clan, Jory, Ben, Dayna, Sidney, Coleman, and Matthew

And to my parents, Ruth and Shelby Steele
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I have a memory of the first time I realized I was black.
Quotations
Stereotype threat, then, is a general phenomenon. It happens to all of us, all the time. Negative stereotypes about our identities hover in the air around us. When we are in situations to which these stereotypes are relevant, we understand that we could be judged or treated in term so of them. If we are invested in what we’re doing, we get worried; we try to disprove the stereotype or avoid confirming it. We present ourselves in counter-stereotypical ways. We avoid situations where we have to contend with this pressure. It’s not all-determining, but it persistently, often beneath our awareness, organizes our actions and choices, our lives – like how far we walk down the aisle of an airplane to find a seat, or how well we do on a round of golf, or on an IQ test. We think of ourselves as autonomous individuals. After all, we make choices. But we often forget that we make choices within contexts, always. And the pressures tied to our social identities is a component of these contexts. This is difficult to appreciate by reflecting on our experience. And yet, as I’ve urged throughout this book, it is precisely these pressures that make a social identity real for us.
 Stereotype threat is a broad fact of life. (pp 209-210)
Still, a hope arises from this research. If we want to overcome underperformance, if we want to open the door for many stereotyped students to learn and prosper in society, we should, in addition to focusing on skill and knowledge, also focus on reducing these threats in schools, classrooms, workplaces, even basketball gyms. You should focus on making the identity less ‘inconvenient’ (pp 189-190)
Being threatened because we have a given characteristic is what makes us most aware of being a particular kind of person.To see this in your own life, think of the important settings in your life, your school, your workplace, your family. The argument, put most strongly, is that if there is nothing in these settings that you have to deal with because you are a woman, or older, or black, or have a Spanish accent, then these characteristics – being a woman, being older, being black, or having a Spanish accent – will not become important social identities for you in that setting. They’ll be characteristics you have. You may cherish them for a variety of reasons. But in that setting they won’t much affect how you see things, whom you identify with, how you react emotionally to events I the setting, whom you relate to easily, and so on. They won’t become central to who you are there. P 73
James Comer… gives a simple piece of advice. If something happens that might reflect prejudice or unfairness against people from their neighborhood, he tells them, they should ignore it. If it happens again, he tells them they should ignore it. If it happens a third time, he tells them, they should raise all hell.…His advice, if they could make it a habit of mind, raises the threshold for how much ambiguity is worth worrying about. Until things become clearer, they can move concerns about identity to the back burner. Pp 75-76
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The hardback and paperback editions have different subtitles for some reason. However, both are 242 pages and the W.W. Norton website refers to each of them as "other formats" of one another.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 039306249X, Hardcover)

Acclaimed social psychologist Claude Steele offers an insider’s look at his groundbreaking findings on stereotypes and identity.

Through dramatic personal stories, Claude Steele shares the experiments and studies that show, again and again, that exposing subjects to stereotypes—merely reminding a group of female math majors about to take a math test, for example, that women are considered naturally inferior to men at math—impairs their performance in the area affected by the stereotype. Steele’s conclusions shed new light on a host of American social phenomena, from the racial and gender gaps in standardized test scores to the belief in the superior athletic prowess of black men. Steele explicates the dilemmas that arise in every American’s life around issues of identity, from the white student whose grades drop steadily in his African American Studies class to the female engineering students deciding whether or not to attend predominantly male professional conferences. Whistling Vivaldi offers insight into how we form our senses of identity and ultimately lays out a plan for mitigating the negative effects of “stereotype threat” and reshaping American identities.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:12 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In Whistling Vivaldi, renowned social psychologist Claude M. Steele addresses one of the most perplexing social issues of our time: the trend of minority underperformance in higher education. With strong evidence showing that the problem involves more than weaker skills, Steele explores other explanations. Here he presents an insider's look at his research and details his groundbreaking findings on stereotypes and identity, findings that will deeply alter the way we think about ourselves, our abilities, and our relationships with each other. Through dramatic personal stories, Steele shares the researcher's experience of peering beneath the surface of our ordinary social lives to reveal what it's like to be stereotyped based on our gender, age, race, class, or any of the ways by which we culturally classify one another. What he discovers is that this experience of "stereotype threat" can profoundly affect our functioning: undermining our performance, causing emotional and physiological reactions, and affecting our career and relationship choices. But because these threats, though little recognized, are near-daily and life-shaping for all of us, the shared experience of them can help bring Americans closer together.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 039306249X, 0393339726

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