This week’s article summary is Bias Starts as Early as Preschool But Can Be Unlearned.
Societal bias is a powerful force that adversely impacts and affects us all, children and adults.
As we have discussed and as the article below illustrates, even our youngest students are impressionable to societal stereotypes.
Way back at the opening faculty meeting of preplanning, I listed the following steps we can all take to help our students (and ourselves) be more empathetic and inclusive:
- Educate ourselves and our students
- Acknowledge imperfections within our goodness
- Provide both ‘windows’ of difference and ‘mirrors’ of similarities to our students
- Think with multiple perspectives and withhold judgment
- Resist societal stereotyping
Combating societal stereotypes (be it gender, religious, racial, age, body image, etc.) requires us to be both proactive and reactive with our students in providing counter examples of stereotypes and using the inevitable missteps we all make as teachable moments
While we can’t prevent our students from being exposed to stereotypes beyond the confines of Trinity, we can help them to see the beauty of difference, the connections we can make with others, and the individuality within all of us. The recent Wednesday faculty meeting about the importance and impact of books to expose our students to DEI topics is a great example of what we’re doing here at Trinity!
We know that teens and adults can demonstrate social bias toward people from cultures different from their own. But what about young children? Do they show bias toward peers based on identity groups?
Using an implicit bias test commonly given to adults, researchers found that the 4 and 5 year old children rated images of black boys less favorably than images of white boys and girls, with images of black girls falling in the middle.
Young children are “astute observers of the social world,” and this can have pernicious effects on how they perceive race and gender, according to the study. The majority of children in the study—both black and white—had a “strong and consistent pro-white bias.”
These findings show that children begin to show bias from an early age. Not only do they absorb the stereotypes they see, but they also become increasingly attuned to social category labels, social status, and the biases exhibited by family members.
In recognition of this research, it’s valuable for educators to be mindful and to implement strategies in their classrooms that recognize young children’s social biases. Here are four relatively simple strategies they can start with.
1. Be aware that children—possibly at an earlier age than expected—may demonstrate bias and preference in their interactions: Preschoolers are not immune to bias and may treat each other differently based on race, ethnicity, or gender.
2. Determine how you want to address situations when bias is occurring: Rather than ignore situations in which children demonstrate bias, educators can use these situations as inspirations for story selection, activities, and projects. For instance, a child may project hierarchies of power in their play by attempting to dominate materials or controlling how play occurs. In response, an educator can work with them to resolve the issue, which could involve listening to the children’s experiences and offering suggestions for sharing.
3. Be mindful of the social environment you’re nurturing: Children use adults—including educators—as reference points for how to react to others. Understanding one’s own preferences and biases is helpful in determining whether social bias toward certain groups is being perpetuated in classrooms. These biases and preferences may be influencing children’s interactions with peers in their classroom as well as educators’ selection of the activities, projects, books, and images they present in the classroom. Educators can become more aware of their own biases by dialoguing with other educators and sharing their stories related to their own cultural identity. These conversations can be kicked off by having educators share a family cultural artifact or family ritual and explain the reasons for its significance.
4. Understand that addressing bias is a process: Even if an educator would like to immediately change the circumstances in their classrooms, progress may be gradual. Just as it may take educators time to realize their biases and work through them, young children will not change their patterns of thinking immediately.
Educators are in a unique position to potentially see children’s social biases unfold as they play and work with peers, so they have a valuable opportunity to help children work through their biases and explore historical and everyday experiences of people from a variety of cultural groups. These explorations may encourage the children to create a welcoming environment in which all students can learn.