Whether one lives on the coast, the heartland, the south, or anywhere in-between, diversity in the 21st century within these United States is abundant. But then, this land of ours was built on the ideals of equality among people of ethnic, religious, and cultural variety, although the practice of that equality has been easier to talk than it has been to walk. And even within the coastal state of California, in which the politically-correct school districts take such pride in encompassing diversity, bias and prejudice most certainly and unfortunately are alive and well. And one does not have to come from a non-dominant group in order to experience bias and prejudice, as it is contextual in nature. While many school systems and community organizations practice multi-cultural education, perhaps “anti-bias curriculum” (introduced by Louise Derman-Sparks and the Anti-Bias Curriculum Task Force) might be a more authentic environment for diversity education.
Critical Thinking vs. Oversimplification
Anti-bias curriculum addresses the pre-conceived assumptions that individuals make and retain regarding themselves and others. It attempts to break through the stereotyping that might be fostered by various family, cultural, and societal biases of both the dominant and non-dominant groups, while attempting to identify discrimination—how/when it is implemented and experienced--in all its variety. Anti-bias goes beyond the diversity of culture to include differences in gender, sexual orientation and identity, including differences in development and physiology. It can sort of clean out the closet of one’s own biases, and may therefore be a harder pill to swallow that multi-cultural education.
Personal Commitment vs. Mandatory In-Service
Anti-bias curriculum lends itself to whatever subject/content area is being taught, since it is more of a state of consciousness and a commitment one makes to justice and equity rather than a separate or stereo-typed celebration that is performed during “multi-cultural month”. Any moment in the classroom could be an opportunity for identifying and for creatively problem-solving issues pertaining to bias and prejudice, and is a perfect enhancement for the pre-school or the college classroom, because it addresses the developmental level of the student and is incorporated into the environment or subject, rather than treated as a separate field of study. Unlike multicultural education, which can unfortunately spiral downward into what Sparks identifies as tourist curriculum that often facilitates the very stereotyping such education is seeking to avoid, anti-bias offers a choice to the educator—a choice to examine one’s own and society’s biases, and to identify them as they exist within ourselves, our media, and our institutions, and to use those topics as platforms for discussion and creative assignments that can be incorporated into any curriculum at any level. Anti-bias consciousness doesn’t expound a “color-blind” or even a “rose-colored” philosophy, because it is based upon accurate information, such as infants’ ability to discriminate between differences in skin-tone by six months of age and differences in race, gender, and physical abilities by around age three.
Self-awareness vs. Politically-Correct Cloning
But understanding bias is a double-edged sword. Once we become more aware of our own biases, it is easier to see those biases in others, even when it is politically incorrect to do so. So the myth of the “great white educator”, who if he or she lives in California is actually a minority anyway, bending over backwards and going through all kinds of contortions to become another clone of the PC population--like the hypocritical antagonist in Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain, who imagines himself such an altruistic liberal while the test of his ideals proves him to be the bigot he always has been--gives way to a deeper understanding that within each of us exists the dirty, little secret that all of us have been raised or socialized to feel prejudice against someone else in some form or other. And out of that deep, dark place a light shines, which illuminates the possibility that through understanding ourselves, we can better understand each other--like it or not--we are all in this world together.
Integration vs. Separation
The ways in which anti-bias curriculum can be incorporated into one’s classroom or subject area are as varied as the classrooms, educators, and subjects themselves. Some years ago, one way in which I prepared for my diverse, fifth-graders was that I asked if everyone (including me) would give a short presentation on the history of their names. How did they come to have this name? What was the story behind how most of us will be identified for the rest of our lives? I also allowed the class to bring in any pictures or decorations that identified who they were as individuals, which were posted on or near the place where they stored their stuff. It didn’t matter, and no stipulations were made, as to whether these memorabilia were to be cultural, personal, neither, or both. Although it is popular to do so in California education today, my personal experience and feelings are that nobody-- regardless of age--enjoys having diversity education rammed down their throats. In some families culture, race, and its histories are highly valued, and in other families that may not be the case. And in either case, it is my position that it is not the educator’s job to dictate that cultural values should be celebrated at home, but rather, to support whatever values the families hold toward themselves in that regard. By asking my fifth-graders to bring in pictures that described themselves, I gathered a lot of information as to what was important in their homes.
One of many examples integrating anti-bias education throughout the school year was the topic of persuasive writing, as we studied the differences between reasoning, classical fallacies, emotion, and open and closed-mindedness. When the school year ended, a parent of one of my former, 5th grade students sent me a letter in which she explained that her son--who had experienced some verbal bullying at his new school--had drawn the conclusion that the kids perpetrating the ridicule were actually insecure about themselves, and had considered him easy to pick on because he was new. She was gratified that he was able to analyze their motivations, that he felt empowered, and that he often reflected upon the discussions we’d had as a fifth grade class.
Milieu vs. Malaise
Regardless of our own personal biases and locale, we all live in a milieu of diversity. And depending sometimes upon location, location, location, some of us are more familiar with such diversity than others. But that familiarity doesn’t exempt us from feeling bias or from being the recipient of discrimination in one form or another. Sometimes that familiarity with those who are different from ourselves can even fuel our biases, or as the saying goes—even “breed contempt”. So rather than perpetuate stereo-typing by breaking open yet one more piñata during “multi-cultural week”, or as one of my Jewish colleagues puts it, “Matzoh is a type of bread reserved as a symbol of survival during the most difficult of times, consumed during a specific celebration that in no way represents daily, Jewish fare.” And as another of my former colleagues in dance education has so accurately described a tu-tu as a costume worn by a professional level ballet dancer in a classical or neo-classical role, and not a normal uniform for ballet students, it is clear that individuals can suffer from some type of close-minded thinking/speaking about someone or something that they lack sufficient knowledge of, while most of use who do belong to that particular minority don’t appreciate those misconceptions one bit. Maybe one way to avoid the malaise of trying to memorize a bunch of information that promotes further categorizing of individual cultures is to look within our own hearts, and to see the truth about how we really think and feel, to understand that no one, anywhere, is completely free of bias. Maybe the best that we can do is to be aware of our biases and to take the baby steps toward changing them. Maybe a teacher keeps a running tally of the number of males called on in class vs. the number of females. Maybe anti-bias is a contradiction in terms, because all of us sharing this human experience have been socialized in so many implicit and explicit ways that the best we can go for is to be “bias-aware”. And maybe for this educator, being bias-aware means being aware of the tendency to categorize the driving abilities of various cultures and age groups on the streets and freeways near my own home.
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