Automaticity: automatic behaviors and responses in any given situation. It is that ability to do things without having to think about them or occupying the mind at the conscious level. Automaticities[plural] are behaviors and responses that become automatic response patterns or habits. They are usually the result of learning, practice, and repetition. In fact, most of our acquired skills that we utilize in our daily lives, are automatized, or automatic.
When I first learned about the concept of automaticity, a loud bell rang out in my head. I experienced an eye-opening sense of awareness and clarity- a “light bulb moment”. Finally, I was able to make the connection or disconnect between African-American students and their lived experiences at school. Now, this does not include ALL students of color, because there is overwhelming evidence that does confirm disparities in school discipline, suspensions and expulsions, even the special education placement in our nation’s schools, as well.
Pointing to recent events involving an African American female high school student in South Carolina, the natural inclination would be to blame the inequitably designed ‘system’, the presence of law enforcement officers in school, or the apparent racism and prejudicial treatment of black and brown students who attend our schools. I could also complain about the pipeline to prison to the increasing criminalization of the education offered to children of color. Note that the former statement specified a population, because not every child who attends public schools are treated, disciplined, or perceived as ‘criminal-like’, and potential suspects.
As it relates to social behaviors, responses and reactions to any given situation, we all have a tendency to revert to automaticity. But, there must be enough opportunities to apply these skills, behaviors, and responses. With sufficient repetition, it becomes a “no-brainer”, and a reliable tool that you no longer engage your conscious awareness.
Through our experiences, we learn what is common and expected in different situations, and automaticity allows us to feel comfortable and familiar in different environments.
For example, a task such as opening a door, walking, or driving, once learned and practiced enough times, becomes an automatic behavior. We don’t have to think about it; we just do it, as it has become an adaptive behavior.
Automaticity enables us to place our brains on ‘auto-pilot’ mode. Also contextual in nature, automatic behaviors and responses can become maladaptive, or ill-suited to a particular situation. So, within a cultural or social context, that which was appropriate in one setting can be inappropriate in another. This is where I connect this phenomenon to cultural differences, and individuals with different life experiences. More specifically, when we interact with other races and cultures, we must try to understand and be cognizant of their own unique experiences, through their lived experiences.
The way that we are socialized is learning what’s considered appropriate or expected within a social context, whether it in familial or community based. We are taught the manners by which we respond to others, and situations differently, based upon the context in which these behaviors and attitudes are learned. It is through the repetition of similar situational experiences that our responses become automatic.
Students from different backgrounds have very different responses to authority figures and what we might consider ‘respectful’ commands. For example, when a teacher asks a student to be seated or be quiet, one student can perceive that as a challenge and another will simply comply. With one student, it may appear to be confrontational, a ‘diss’ and will struggle to retain ‘save face’. With another student, with different frequencies of relevant situational experiences, compliance is the norm. Once again, not everyone lives within same contexts, and will respond according to that which they have learned or taught. There is a distinction to be made between the two, comparatively speaking.
There is also a distinction that must be made between intent and impact. Often times, the intention is not to disrupt, but the impact is disruptive to the learning process.
Therefore I say that before we conclude that a reprimand, regarding such behaviors is warranted, consider the ‘whole child’, the whole picture first. Then, consider the opportunities given to the student for learning, unlearning or relearning acceptable classroom[or school] behaviors. Consider whether this child has been given adequate opportunities to practice new behaviors or responses within this context. Consider the intent, while also considering the needs that may underlie these behaviors, and then, give a kid a chance to learn.