On Echo Chambers…

What is an echo chamber?

According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, an echo chamber is, “an environment in which somebody encounters only opinions and beliefs similar to their own, and does not have to consider alternatives.” The term is most often used to describe our social media bubbles where we’ve carefully curated the people we follow and therefore only see opinions that conform to our own, further confirming our existing beliefs. It seems that ‘the whole world’ agrees with us. But that is only true because we have limited our ‘whole world’ to be those who see the world through our same lens.

This has implications beyond social media into our personal lives, the workplace, and education. Look at the people who are closest to you at home and at work- many times they have similar backgrounds, levels of education, and shared experiences. When I started teaching high school science in a large, urban school district, ~80% of the 2,700 students at our school were from minority racial or ethnic groups and over 60% were economically disadvantaged. Without doing a deep dive, I would say that 90+% of our teaching staff (including 14 of 16 science teachers) were middle-class and white. When there were discussions about what was going on in our classrooms, there was no one to push back on our lines of thinking about our students. We were in an echo chamber.

What can we do?

  • When engaging on social media, seek out and follow dissenting views to help broaden your exposure.
  • Read articles on the same topics from a variety of sources and political leanings (I used this chart from Pew as a guide).
  • Deliberately seek out those from different backgrounds and cultures in your personal and professional life.
  • When building teams or planning panel discussions, be intentional in your selection of a diverse group of voices.
  • If you’re not building the team but are part of it, speak up about diversity and the echo chamber if it has been overlooked.
  • Just recognizing and being cognizant of the fact you are living in an echo chamber often helps you reach out more broadly, but make no mistake- it needs to be a deliberate and intentional change.
  • Read non-fiction AND fiction books from authors outside your race, ethnic background, and views.

On a personal note: Part of my learning journey as an educator that has had strong impact beyond just my world of education has been to read race-related non-fiction and fiction. Two books I highly recommend:

  • For White Folks Who Teach in the ‘Hood by Chris Emdin
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.

I’ve got a few more currently on the shelf that I will tackle soon:

  • Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit,
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, and
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

I’ve also included some YA Fiction by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) authors that the students we serve are reading: Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo comes to mind.