Dealing with Unconscious Bias in Schools

Here’s an accessible article about implicit bias in schools, with a quick overview of the state of the research on how to combat it. The article appeared earlier this week on The Brown Center Chalkboard, a blog of the Brookings Institution. We promise it’s an easy read that won’t make you feel bad or hopeless.  It touches on the following key points:

What is unconscious bias (UB)?

UB is the phenomenon in which stereotypes, positive or negative, influence decisions and behaviors without the individual consciously acting on the stereotype or being aware that he or she is doing so. Moreover, UB can occur even when individuals know or believe the stereotype to be false.

There’s an evidence base indicating it exists.

There is ample evidence of UB in educational settings, both in experimental labs and “in the field” with real individuals who were unaware of their participation in an experiment.

Students who are used to being on the losing end of a stereotype are highly primed to see bias.

Additionally, individuals from stereotyped out-groups themselves react negatively to seemingly innocuous environmental factors, such as the demographic composition of a classroom, the race or sex of an instructor or proctor, and even the design and decoration of the classroom.

There’s research on what to do to counteract UB. “Teacher-facing” interventions hold the most promise, though more study is needed. Key suggestions include:

  • Nurture employees’ motivation to reduce UB by building an awareness of one’s own biases without shaming or blaming
  • Develop an awareness of the shared psychological basis for UB and of the fact that UB is a naturally occurring, physiological phenomenon
  • Evaluate individuals based on their own unique attributes and not through their group membership (social, demographic, or otherwise)
  • Reduce the anxiety created by cross-group interactions by increasing the frequency of such interactions, particularly in low-stakes settings
  • Encourage empathy and perspective-taking
  • Build partnerships and teams that reduce out-group status

The blog post links to many additional resources and reports on unconscious bias and ways to reduce it. Highly recommended as an entry point!

(Image copied from the above-referenced Brookings Chalkboard post)

Opportunities, Plants, and One Last Push: Come on over and tell us what you think!

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It’s live for just a few more days…come on over and take our survey!

A HUGE thank you to those who have already stopped by. Responses are already helping us figure out what we’ll be working on next, how to bring you more of what’s been helpful, and what you might like to see that we haven’t done quite yet.

We are also about to begin a project preserving stories from educators in this national moment. If you’d like to talk with us, anonymously or otherwise, about how things are for you and your students, right here and now, we’d love to hear from you. (And you can indicate that on our survey.)

Now for opportunity! If you are a Bay Area teacher working with students in grades 8-12, you just might be interested in KQED Learning’s new Student Inquiry and Publishing pilot program.

We are looking for 40 Bay Area English, science, social studies or VAPA educators who teach grades 8-12 to pilot a new project starting this summer and continuing into fall of 2017.

The project will feature curriculum, media-making resources and professional development for teachers to support students in investigating questions and creating media about their findings. Using an online publishing platform, students will be able to work with peers both in their own classroom and other classrooms in a safe space where they can seek authentic feedback, support and inspiration. Students will access this platform through their teacher (similar to Google Classroom), and student work will not be visible to anyone not participating in the project.

Head on over to the link above to read more and apply. Get moving–applications close 3/24!

And plants: we recently discovered the Smithsonian’s Botany and Art and Their Roles in Conservation. Aside from being gorgeous to look at, these resources for primary and middle grade students can help provide in-depth interdisciplinary content for a science or art classroom.

This teaching guide includes a lesson plan originally published as “Smithsonian in Your Classroom.” It introduces students to the work of botanists and botanical illustrators, specifically their race to make records of endangered plant species around the world. The students try their own hands at botanical illustration, following the methods of a Smithsonian artist. Also included here are additional resources on the topic, a one-hour webinar and a website.

Thanks again for stopping by and responding to any and all of our survey questions!

 

Weekend Reading, 3/12

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It’s been a busy week for us here (please take our survey!), so it’s time to grab a drink, some reading material, and relax. Here are a few things we’ve been reading, though fair warning, unlike surveys, they’re not all conducive to relaxation.

First, watch this space! The Academic Expat is creating a Get Out Syllabus, centered around the incredibly acclaimed (both by critics and viewers) movie by the same name. Right now you’ll find the beginning of this work by Crystal Boson, PhD, here. If you’re not familiar with the film, this is material probably best suited for high school, college, and adult learners. Here’s her introduction:

The “Get Out” Syllabus focuses intently on the conversations surrounding White violence, the consumption of Black Bodies, and the erasure of Black Women that the movie elicits. The syllabus is divided into two parts; the first  closely examines the historical and cultural violences that made the movie possible. The second section examines the absences and erasures that make sections of the film explicitly more horrifying. My “Get Out” syllabus is in no way meant to be exhaustive or complete. Rather, it is an entry to point to key conversations that must be continued after the movie falls from theatres and our current popular culture attention span.

Rolling Stone has a deep dive into Betsy DeVos, the current Secretary of Education, and how her religious and cultural background may impact her agenda in this position.

Neither Betsy DeVos, who is 59, nor any of her children have ever attended a public school; her Cabinet post also marks her first full-time job in the education system. Even before her nomination, she was a controversial figure in education circles, a leading advocate of “school choice” through student vouchers, which give parents public dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools. During her Senate confirmation hearing in January, DeVos struggled to grasp some of the most basic fundamentals of education terminology, student-loan policy and federal provisions mandating public schools provide free and appropriate education to people with disabilities. At one point, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, who represents the families of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, asked DeVos if she believed schools should be gun-free zones. She responded that in states like Wyoming “there is probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

If you are interested in learning more about the broader vision DeVos and those she’s worked with share, this is an article well worth your time.

For the English teachers, here’s Margaret Atwood in The New York Times opining on what everyone else has been talking about: the parallels between our current reality and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Yes, women will gang up on other women. Yes, they will accuse others to keep themselves off the hook: We see that very publicly in the age of social media, which enables group swarmings. Yes, they will gladly take positions of power over other women, even — and, possibly, especially — in systems in which women as a whole have scant power: All power is relative, and in tough times any amount is seen as better than none. Some of the controlling Aunts are true believers, and think they are doing the Handmaids a favor: At least they haven’t been sent to clean up toxic waste, and at least in this brave new world they won’t get raped, not as such, not by strangers. Some of the Aunts are sadists. Some are opportunists. And they are adept at taking some of the stated aims of 1984 feminism — like the anti-porn campaign and greater safety from sexual assault — and turning them to their own advantage. As I say: real life.

And finally, some humor that we sincerely hope stays funny:

On the Origins of the Civil War: “Refusing to recognize the rights of Southern small business owners to help the documented immigrants in their care obtain their dreams, Dishonest Abe Lincoln, who never had a birth certificate, waged an illegal war using the machinery of big government.”

On the Massacre at Wounded Knee: “Not to be confused with actual massacres like the one at Bowling Green over a century later, this so-called tragedy in 1890 was nothing more than the feds taking out some bad hombres and undocumented natives hiding out from authorities in South Dakota.”

See you next week–and share our survey!

“Resources for Teaching in Tumultuous Times”

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This was passed on to us by a professor friend of the blog, and it’s too good not to pass it along to all of you. From Tasha Souza (Boise State University) and Floyd Cheung (Smith College), “Resources for Teaching in Tumultuous Times” is two pages of excellent material.

From their intro:

As teachers, we cannot control all aspects of the learning environment. Sometimes local, national, and international events send shock waves through our communities that most of us cannot ignore and that all of us–students, faculty, and staff–experience in different ways. Although we can never predict how to respond in such moments, here are a handful of resources that might help with framing conversations both in and outside of the classroom.

The material is teacher-centered, and touches on topics from preparing for discussion of traumatic events to teaching in tense political times to specific ways to support students of color to statements of academic freedom.

We could lose an entire day that we don’t have to reading each link and chasing the links within the links, so we’ll leave that to you–but one additional resource to highlight referenced by UC Berkeley in their information on Discussing Traumatic Events is Vanderbilt University’s “Teaching in Times of Crisis.”

A 2007 survey by Therese A. Huston and Michelle DiPietro (2007) reveals that “from the students’ perspective, it is best to do something. Students often complained when faculty did not mention the attacks at all, and they expressed gratitude when faculty acknowledged that something awful had occurred” (p. 219).  Students report that “just about anything” is helpful, “regardless of whether the instructor’s response required relatively little effort, such as asking for one minute of silence…, or a great deal of effort and preparation, such as incorporating the event into the lesson plan or topics for the course” (p. 216). The exception, the least helpful and even most problematic responses are a “lack of response” and “acknowledging that [the crisis] had occurred and saying that the class needs to go on with no mention of opportunities for review or extra help” (p. 218).

There are many possibilities for how to address a crisis in class, from activities that take only a moment to restructuring your entire course, and plenty in between. Again, consider that students appreciate any action, no matter how small.

Both are well-worth saving for reference.

Weekend Refresher: Responding to Trauma

This repost from Teaching Tolerance seemed like a timely reminder. Are your students showing bad behavior… or reacting to traumatic events? Here are some techniques for responding to trauma:

Establish social and emotional safety in your classroom.

Strategies • Classroom contracts • Explicit anti-bullying or community-building curricula • Timely interventions in conflicts and hurtful exchanges • Teaching and modeling of empathy and active listening skills

Create a behavior-management plan that focuses on positive reinforcement.

Strategies • Implement student-generated agreements and contracts • Adopt “zero indifference” (NOT zero-tolerance) policies • Seek out training in restorative justice techniques • Explore stress-management strategies to diffuse tense situations and help students process feelings in the moment • Give students opportunities to demonstrate their strengths

Increase your self-awareness and trauma competency.

Strategies • Seek professional development on working with specific identity groups • Share support resources with other educators  • Connect with community organizations • Engage in ongoing self-assessment and reflection on your trauma responsiveness

Trump Syllabus 2.0: Supplemental Reading

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From AAIHS (African American Intellectual History Society) is this Supplementary Reading List. This joins the Trump Syllabus 2.0 that we posted about several weeks ago. Worth your time and attention, either as background reading or for advanced students.

Categories include:

  • Origins, Intellectual Genealogies, and Ideological Constructs
  • Race, Class, Gender and Difference
  • Religion and Society
  • Civil Rights and Liberties
  • The Worlds Within and Beyond Our Shores
  • Contemporary Representations

All categories include primary and secondary sources, along with multimedia resources.

Beating the Bystander Effect: Part III, Theatre of the Oppressed

One method for helping students beat the bystander effect is to allow them space to practice acting–and reacting. Theatre of the Oppressed (in particular, Forum theatre), is one way to do this. Developed by Brazilian actor Augusto Boal in the 1950s and 1960s, the games and techniques used in this type of theater can be excellent tools for engaging students of all ages and levels.

The goal of Theatre of the Oppressed in general is to break down the traditional barriers between audience and actors. Forum theatre, in particular, encourages audience members to intervene in the action that’s going on before them, usually to help the action move closer towards justice.  Boal himself referred to spectators as “spect-actors.” It’s worth noting here that Boal’s work was highly influenced by that of the radical educator Paolo Freire, writer of Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

While there’s plenty of theory to be read on the subject, and many variations out there now, the quick and dirty summary goes something like this: a scenario is played out, usually one with an example of oppression or injustice. Together, the actors and spectators intervene in order to address–and heal–the oppression taking place.

And it comes with a lot of student-friendly theater games, meant to help participants learn how to work together before they tackle the heavier issues.

The Resources:

To get started right away:

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a two-part resource, the initial article, “Flipping the Script on Bias and Bullies,” and a four-day lesson plan entitled “Circle Sculpture” for 6th-8th grade students.

“Flipping the Script” has a great example of an oppression scenario in action–and how the audience can respond.

“You people!” the cafeteria worker barks. “You come to this country, and you think it’s a free lunch.” She stands over the students, in her hair net and scrubs, glaring down at them. The kids, all students of color, sit at the table in a mixture of disbelief and outrage. Free lunch is indeed the issue. One of the students is on the school’s free lunch program, and he was sharing his meal with another student — a violation of lunchroom rules. The act has uncorked a hidden stream of volatile feelings in the white cafeteria worker. She snatches the lunchroom tray from the students, who respond with disrespectful words of their own. Soon the whole group is in the principal’s office, facing a lecture.

But then something amazing happens. A Latina grandmother shouts “Stop!”

Things do indeed stop. Because the office is not really an office — it’s a set on a stage. The principal and cafeteria worker aren’t really school employees — they’re students, playing theatrical roles. Only the grandmother is real. And now she’s climbing from the audience to the stage, eyeballing the “principal” coldly.

“You need to listen,” she says, with steel in her voice.

The lesson plan, “Circle Sculpture,” contains four days worth of warm up games, follow up questions, and various other Theatre of the Oppressed exercises. There are clear instructions for bringing in present-day scenarios. The curriculum also acknowledges that these types of exercises can present their own classroom challenges.

The first step this multi-day lesson involves safety and trust building. Take special care while guiding the activities to ensure that each student feels valued and heard, and that all opinions, thoughts, and feelings are considered equal.

Remember, once trust has been established, the community’s growth and learning can be both rapid and deep. At the conclusion of these activities, students can emerge with a shared experience that is powerful and transformational. Trust the process, your students and yourself.

 

To learn a little bit more history, along with some great theater exercises:

For those interested in a professional development approach, Organizing for Power has notes from a teacher training session, “Augusto Boal’s FORUM THEATRE for teachers,” led by Susie MacDonald and Daniel Rachel. The workshop was a part of the 2000 Athens Conference.

These notes include step by step rules for Forum theatre, notes on the traditional role of the Joker, a great list of theater games and exercises, and notes on two Forum theater scenarios that were used at the conference itself.

We can’t recommend enough their list of techniques, games, and rules for anyone who wants to put together their own lesson or unit.