While not all biases are rooted in maliciousness, they are all rooted in an ignorance that can distort how we view not only others, but also ourselves. For instance, how many times have we been too willing to conclude that a person’s race, ethnicity or gender is at the root of their actions? “That’s a white people thing.”; “That’s just how black people are.”; “Italians, Asians, Jewish people etc. always do that.” Or “Well, that’s a man for you. What do you expect?” For better or worse, biases reside in our minds, accompanying us wherever we go. When individuals are not vigilant about guarding against whatever biases they may have in favor of a human-to-human experience, profound negative consequences are created for individuals that ripple into the whole of society.
Teachers are among the chief influencers and shapers of the thoughts and feelings of children, so I feel that it is imperative that we make it a practice of human-first thinking. What a teacher chooses to do or say to a child can have consequences that live well into adulthood. Don’t believe me? Take a moment right now and reflect on your academic career. I can almost certainly guarantee you that you have a memory from your childhood or young adulthood of something a teacher said or did to you that you can directly attribute to increasing or decreasing your self-image. One step teachers, including preschool teachers, take to safeguard against biased thinking practices is to participate in diversity awareness seminars and training courses.
Here are a few lessons that can be gained from attending Educating Diverse Populations training.
LESSON ONE: The Universe Has Many Centers
Not so long ago pantyhose, make-up, undergarments, even crayons of a pinkish-beige hue were tagged as “flesh colored” by those manufactures. Companies stopped using these hues as the universal norm for skin tone after being called into awareness by the public. Corporations were asked to recognize that by selecting Caucasian as the standard measurement for human skin tone, a practice steeped in cultural and racial bias, forced the old social narrative that all other races were, well, “not the norm”. Being asked to think about the consequences of their actions, corporations discontinued the labeling practice and adopted a new narrative; humans are flesh colored no matter the race, creed or color.
LESSON TWO: Perspective Isn’t Everything; It’s The Only Thing
Perspective increases awareness.
My children are multi-racial.
They were raised to understand this as a point of fact not as opinion. They were also prepared to understand that some people will have the opinion that they are more strongly bonded to some of their ancestors than others, when the fact is that in family they were created and to family they are uniquely bonded.
Moreover, they were raised to care about the lives of other people and to value themselves and others.
When my son was in the fourth grade, his teacher gave the class the assignment of making a family tree. After my son’s presentation to the class, his teacher announced to the kids that in summation that my son is black. My son, pointing to his family tree, stated that in addition to being African-American, because of his ancestors he is also part English, Irish, Native-American and Asian.
She told him that’s not how race works. He is black. He told her that’s not how family works.
He was every race on his family tree. Ignoring him, she explained that she was Jewish and according to the Jewish faith, the child is considered to be whatever the mother is. So since his mother is black he is black. I asked him what he thought about that. He said he told her that maybe true, but since he was not Jewish it was not true for him.
People often get so caught up in their truth that they lose sight of perspective.
But it is through perspective that we understand truths are not the same as facts and humanity is preserved.
No Matter How Good Your Intentions Are, Mistakes Will Be Made
In diversity studies, we are taught that when we talk about people we should always lead with the noun, never the adjective. For example, “I work with children who are autistic.” Or “We have a large population of children who are homeless in our school.” The reason for this, we are taught, is that intent follows the noun and by being mindful of the language we choose, we stay in awareness that circumstances may influence our training, but the child is our focus of care. Even knowing this, we sometimes revert to old patterns of thinking and speaking. If an old pattern appears and you are conscience enough to be aware of it, GOOD FOR YOU! That’s a great first step to ending old patterns and following through on your intention to replace them with new ones. Simply say to yourself, “That was a limiting belief and I no longer limit myself as a human or others.” If your desire is to inspire children into their greatest humanist potential and steer them away from biased boxed-in thinking, then you must be willing to hit the reset button and never stop trying to be the version of you that best reflects your best intentions.
Whether a classroom is racially integrated or racially homogeneous, it serves us all to create a learning environment that is not merely color blind, but one which is color inclusive. Story books, props and puzzles that have characters which are diverse racially, ethnically and physically go a long way to promote positive self-image in children as well as guard them against what I call- filtered- reality thinking. The same steps can be taken to guard against limited gender- biased thinking. Images of women firefighters and men nurses and scientists of both genders accurately reflect the reality of choices children will grow up to find to be true, so why not present those choices early and often.
“You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” is a song for the ages by Rodgers and Hammerstein from the musical South Pacific. It describes in plain, yet eloquent verse how adults can be responsible for guiding children away from their naturally open hearts to embrace thoughts of bigotry. But knowledge is power and we know
that when new thoughts are introduced, new actions can manifest, or in the words of En Vouge, “Free your mind and the rest will follow.”
Until next time, remember child development is human development.