Lasha Pierce MD
Bringing Up Bias- The Big Blue Elephant
Updated: May 13, 2018
Schools are microcosms of the broader society. There is plenty of research in the social
sciences that describe implicit bias against members of the African American community. Thus, it is not a far reach to expect the same bias to exist against African American students in schools. In fact, the research shows that as well.
To go further, historically the narrative of the fragility of white women has added to the
bias in a destructive and illogical way that assumes when a white woman is among a group African American people (this group can be men, women or children), that she is somehow in inherent danger and in need of protecting. This plays out in many educational settings as overly aggressive policies against African American children. The unequal response to behaviors, and the criminalization of African American students has led to the notorious school-to-prison pipeline. School policies often allow for escalation to interface with law enforcement for minor behavioral deviations (i.e. “defiance”). The unequal parsing out of consequences also translates to African American students being forced to miss instructional time in the name of discipline, or self selecting to be absent from school for their own psychological protection and thus adds to the academic achievement divide.
Restorative education, with its focus on repairing past harms, seeks to decriminalize African American students and heal the trauma caused by their historic abuse and neglect in the educational system. One of the things we know from prior research is that African American students perform better when they perceive a good relationship with their teacher(s). This begs the question: Can teachers, with no real training in, respect of or understanding of African American cultural norms and values have a genuine relationship with those students?
When there is fear and bias against the student, does that foster trust and a good
relationship? Likely Not. When there are negative assumptions of ability (African American students are less likely to be tested for gifted programs and more likely to be referred to special education programs), does that foster student confidence and willingness to learn? Likely not. When there are few to no positive reflections of a student's community, culture or history reflected in the curriculum or staff, does that foster a sense of self worth, deservedness and a sense of belonging? No.
Bias, and the accompanying academic neglect and psychological abuse that is born
from it, are unacceptable byproducts of institutional racism. Until we strategize about and act on how to eliminate this toxin from the educational industry, it will continue to wreak havoc on our communities.