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📝: Stacy Vazquez 📅: April 22, 2023 🔗: /i-am-a-mansplainer
I am a ✨Mansplainer✨
The world has always valued prediction. Both psychics and financial analysts live on prediction. Their job is to foresee the future, so that we can maximize success and minimize misfortune. As a consequence, humans have developed reliable pattern-identification skills.

Everyone knows the classic IQ test question: given a sequence of numbers or illustrations, identify the missing / following item. Nowadays, we train AI to help us predict. As I write this blog post, my handy document editor offers to finish my phrases and sentences. And, I would be lying if I said I didn't find Google autocomplete satisfying. Given sufficient data, we can figure out what to expect.

I began tutoring when I was nine and have continued since. Helping multiple classmates with long division, I identified common misconceptions and prepared answers to address them; years later, I still use this approach. So, naturally, I evolved into a mansplainer.

Mansplainer [noun, informal; /mænspleɪnɚ/]: a man that explains (usually to a woman) in a patronizing manner.

Or, what my friends call it — to spare my feelings — a tutor. Now, before I get canceled, my claim is not that tutors are mansplainers (we love tutors; tutors are very snazzy), but, rather, that my desire for the convenience of predicting sometimes comes at the expense of my students' confidence and understanding.

Consider the following scenario: a student asks me to confirm if the surface area of a square is given by 4πr2, and I tell her, “yes because surface area is the derivative of the volume which is 4/3πr3.”

Now, for some students providing that explanation might give them insight they hadn't considered before, allowing them to understand the concept rather than rely on a formula. But, some students want to think for themselves. See, when you think about the origin of a math formula you don't just gain an understanding of why the formula holds but also thinking skills that are applicable to more challenging questions. When someone gives you the explanation, you are guaranteed to obtain the former but not the latter. You might learn from the way the tutor thought about the problem and choose to adopt it. But, you lack the reward mechanism, the satisfaction of arriving at a solution.

Consider the following scenario: a student asks if a negative number multiplied by a negative number gives a positive, and I reply, “yes, and a negative times a positive gives a negative.”

Claim: a little extra information doesn't hurt anyone…

Wrong :( ! At MIT, I discovered that a little extra information isn't as harmless as it seems. When I seek tutoring, I seek a dynamic similar to that of speaking to a colleague; I don't seek to feel inferior to my tutor (perhaps stemming a little bit from my academic ego). So, giving that extra information could make a student feel like the tutor expects they know less than they do. A lot of success in academics comes from confidence.

This is where mansplaining comes in. There are times when we want to spare a student some questions, so from our experience, we answer them ahead of time, like the situations above. Additionally, there are times when we feel a student could benefit from thinking about a concept in a certain way because it was helpful for us. So, we provide that information. For example, when a student is learning the unit circle, it's tempting to encourage them to see its foundation in trigonometry ahead of time. All of our brains are wired differently, so projecting our rationale is not always ideal.

Claim: motivating independent thinking can be fruitful…

Maybe! For this claim, I don't have a binary response. This raises a question about teaching that many educators and professionals are working to address. How much information should teachers provide? Are vague, open-ended answers more helpful than direct ones? Would this cause more confusion or frustration? Some students need more hints than others. Some students want more hints than others. This is why I respect teachers immensely. They have to find a strategy that works for a class made up of students with different learning styles, and adapt that strategy as generations change.

After COVID, I noticed that a lot of our attention span, as a generation, decreased (I wouldn't be surprised if half of my readers have clicked away by now). We began to gravitate towards Tiktok's fifteen second videos over Youtube's longer videos. And, like many others, I appreciate those moments when I google a question and a short answer appears at the top of the search results in a large font and bolded letters.

We have grown up with so much information at our fingertips, that it has become overwhelming. I find that I can only digest so much information at a time. I've even noticed that, when asking for help, I sometimes ask for a pause in which I can process and fully understand the last statement made.

So, turns out, a little extra information can be negative. (Not to mention, those last minute clarification questions when a student might ask about negative number multiplication, and after giving that extra bit of information, a student can't properly recall what you said because their brain couldn't register that much in that small timeframe.)

Question: why call it mansplaining instead of overexplaining?

Well, a lot of mansplaining roots from misogyny and prejudice. And, this faulty approach to teaching also stems from prejudice, assuming that a person asking for help inherently knows and understands less.

I have observed this trend in fellow MIT classmates, as well. Back home, many of us were the go-to 'tutors'. We answered questions for classmates who were struggling to understand. And, in high school, comprehension is more binary than it is in college. You either know your formulas, or you don't. At MIT, however, that line is very blurred; a student can be one clarification away from mastering a topic. And, at a place like MIT, maintaining confidence in the face of impostor syndrome is key, especially since many students are learning to ask for help for the first time.

As I conclude this post, I can't help but recall my reaction to when I was called a mansplainer. As a seventeen year old girl who adored teaching and helping others, 'mansplainer' was the last title I would've expected. But, I've come far since then. Instead of feeling hurt, I acknowledge that my teaching style is not foolproof, and I'm excited to learn more about education.

I've always seen pattern-matching as a way to improve. Yet, I now realize that a lot of prejudice roots from people's 'reliable' yet still imperfect 'pattern-matching.' Just as we strive to predict, it is also our job to look back and strive to fix our flaws.

I have made a lot of claims in this post. And I would like to warn that a lot of my thoughts are merely a product of observation. I don't have a degree in education, simply experience. So, everything I said in this post could hold some truth. Or, it could be another example in which human prediction fails.

Regardless, I can confidently say that this post is another opportunity to learn.
Post Info
📝: Stacy Vazquez
📅: April 22, 2023
🔗: /i-am-a-mansplainer
🏷️: Favorites Thoughts College Tutoring
Thanks for reading!