That unfair, and sometimes not even recognized, prejudice against someone or something can be displayed by teachers and students through different types of bias.
Two general types of bias are implicit and explicit bias. Simply put, implicit bias is done unconsciously and is shown through attitudes or feelings we have without even being aware of them. The actions we take and the decisions we make are affected by our implicit biases even if we don’t intend to be judgmental or negative toward another. Conversely, explicit bias is done on purpose to offend. When we consciously speak or act in a way to separate ourselves from another person or group, sometimes because we feel threatened or desire to put ourselves above others, we are displaying explicit bias.
Schools can unfortunately be a place where both types of bias exist. As hard as teachers and students may try, they may be unconsciously showing implicit bias toward others in the classroom. Teachers may have experiences or associations that cause them to react differently when enforcing discipline depending on the sex or race of a student. Students may also have types of bias that make them fearful or uneasy if faced with a student from another culture or ethnic background who doesn’t look or sound like them.
Implicit biases may also be revealed in students’ and teachers’ expectations of others. Shane Safir in “5 Keys to Challenging Implicit Bias,” via edutopia.org, tells of his experience in trying to get his history course taught at a diverse city high school to be an honors-credited course. His assistant principal rejected the teacher’s proposal because “our students aren’t accelerated enough to handle an honors curriculum.” In the same way, students asked to form groups for a project sometimes pair only with students they feel would do their share and help the group achieve success, and unconsciously they often base those feelings on their implicit bias that considered ethnic backgrounds in judging other students’ ability to contribute.
Neither teachers nor students like to admit that they have any type of bias. But they often justify explicit bias based on personal experiences or opinions expressed by others. For instance, teachers who have a choice of students in their classroom gladly choose a well-behaved girl over that boy who they’ve heard about in the teacher’s lounge. Students may isolate a new student of another race, economic class, or ethnicity instead of getting to know them as an individual. Teachers and students who have little experience with diverse groups of people can also be likely to believe stereotypes about specific groups of people. Others will create and perpetuate assumptions about a particular race, ethnic group, gender, or other population based on one or two experiences with people from that group.
Bullying often has explicit bias at its core. When teachers or students treat a particular student differently because of their race, religion, socio-economic status, sexuality, ethnicity, or gender, their explicit bias is on full display. Whether their bias comes from ignorance, fear, or the opinions they hear at home, it can be harmful to individuals and the school environment as a whole.
Battle Against Bias
The first step in fighting types of bias is to simply acknowledge that everyone has unconscious thoughts or feelings that cause them to be biased. Just being aware that bias exists and striving to overcome it can be a good beginning.
The next step is making yourself aware of bias in your school. Look and listen for signs of fear or apprehension and become a friend to students, as well as other teachers, who are the victims of bias. Advocate for them and become a person who listens to others without judging or interrupting.
Finally, take action to reach out to others outside of your normal community or seek out events with diverse cultural themes or celebrating cultures or events unfamiliar to you. Learn and educate yourself to dispel those unconscious beliefs not based on fact, but bias. Share what you discover with your students.
Teachers can make a huge difference in helping all students to feel welcome in class, regardless of how different or difficult they are first judged to be. Making a conscious effort to recognize and eliminate all types of bias ensures that teachers and students are respected and treated equally.