I have an extended lesson plan in my book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves, on helping students learn to take personal responsibility and blame others less.

In addition, I have a related “The Best..” list called The Best Resources For Helping Students (& The Rest Of Us) Learn The Concept Of Not Blaming Others.

Today, I got an idea for an addition to those lessons.

First, NPR ran a story titled Partisan Psychology: Why Do People Choose Political Loyalties Over Facts? It discusses a study on cognitive dissonance — holding two conflicting opinions in your head at the same time. Even though the article was talking about it in the context of politics, it certainly happens in the classroom. For example, when a student throws a wad of paper at another student and explains to the teacher that the other student “made him do it” even though the teacher points out that nobody “made him” do it but himself. They have inconsistent ideas in their head.

The NPR article points out a study that found that people tend to have cognitive dissonance because it’s painful for them if they do not. They then found that people were more likely to get past these inconsistencies if they felt more positive about themselves.

So, I’m going to develop an addendum to my lesson on personal responsibility. I’m thinking it might be worth including a short piece on cognitive dissonance where we learn what it is, I share examples from my life, and students share experiences from their own. We can review this study, and I’m hopeful that it might make student more aware of its dangers.

In addition, I’m thinking that this info could be a useful classroom management tool. When, for example, I have a paper wad throwing incident like I share earlier, I wonder what might happen if I asked a student who was reluctant to accept responsibility to take a minute and think about something positive he did in his life?

Coincidentally, Jon Stewart did a piece on cognitive dissonance last night on the Daily Show. There are a couple of inappropriate parts here, but portions of it could be useful in class. Here it is:

I’m certainly open to other ideas on how to make this point better, too!