Growing Through Our Biases: An Educator Exercise
The recent events surrounding race and racism have been difficult and painful.
And we have to talk about it.
As we piece through our individual places in the fray, we have the double task of coaching our students through these uncomfortable social paradigms. In the case of schools, we can only support our students' in the shedding of unhealthy biases after we have examined and tended to our own.
As someone who is hired to coach educators through the processes of naming and mitigating implicit and explicit biases, recent events have forced a re-evaluation of my own thoughts, rooted values and prejudices. More than this, they've been a catalyst to explore my potential contributions within this context, as well as the potential contributions of my peer practitioners and our students, who watch us with anticipatory eyes. How can our voices be proactively and retroactively employed? How can we come to terms with a reasonable framework for self-accountability in light of the brazen dissolution of interpersonal respect and cooperativeness?
I have prejudices. You have prejudices. Our students and their parents carry biases into the school each day. Some of those are friendly, harmless judgments. Many are not.
We have a responsibility to mitigate our own biases to whatever extent we are able. This duty carries remarkable weight, based on the nature of our work with children and the inevitable part we play as role models in urban, multicultural settings. It is also our task to encourage a shift in the negative biases that exist in our parents and students, Newcomer and non-Newcomer alike.
Where is our start point?
The following is an excerpt from The Newcomer Teacher: A Workbook Companion to the Newcomer Student (Sept 2017). The Cultural Biases Workshop is a means to explore our own thought and action patterns. After all, only after we are brave enough to confront our own implicit and explicit biases can we hope to make positive changes to the broader social dynamic.
From the text:
"When we meet new people or begin to establish new relationships, our brains respond with a flurry of conscious and unconscious activity. We are analyzing the other individual and making a series of analyses based on the stimulation that our brain is receiving. We are producing and activating biases.
Prejudices, stereotypes and discriminatory evaluations are unconscious thinking patterns. Often, these thought-processing channels were constructed in our early childhood, influenced by our role models, societal constructs and media. Reinforced or repeated prejudices eventually become automatic. They become ingrained information-processing mechanisms."
But there's good news.
"Evidence strongly indicates that unconscious biases can be overcome, and even reversed, with sincere intent." In fact, "A person who is motivated to be unprejudiced—because of legal sanctions, social pressures, or strong personal egalitarian values—can suppress biased responses." -Culture Plus, 2018
In a fascinating turn of events, the human mind is capable of overriding itself.
Again from The Newcomer Teacher:
"We are capable of re-imagining our vision of the world around us. In order for true culture and bias training to be effective, we have to make way for it to be effective. That process begins with us taking the time to be raw and honest with ourselves about our own apparent and underlying prejudices.
There’s no promise that the process will be attractive, or even particularly enjoyable. However, be assured that by taking the first steps in being truthful with ourselves, we can open doors for growth and improvement, both in our lives and in the the lives of the students we serve."
Ina Catrinescu writes, “Confirmation bias is our most treasured enemy. Our opinions, our acumen- all of it, are the result of years of selectively choosing to pay attention to that information only which confirms what our limited minds already accept as truth.”
If we can selectively choose to pay attention to those things that support one thought pattern, then we can selectively choose to entertain new though patterns as well. Let’s make an effort to choose wisely.