I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to promote a respectful community in my preschool classroom. Most often in my preschool world this consists of “using kind words”, “taking care of our supplies and toys”, and “talk it out to solve the problem”. These are pretty universal and the majority of my students and their families understand, agree with, and enforce these same goals out of the classroom.
However, there exists another type of respect I want to model as I provide my young students guidance in learning how to be part of a peaceful, positive community. These goals are not always shared and taught (or agreed upon) at home or in our larger communities. Sadly, this curriculum is (unintentionally) overlooked and downplayed in my experience in various school systems and environments as well. This type of curriculum and modeling is often grazed over or avoided. Teaching this kind of respect and understanding of others can be messy, and sometimes risky.
I’m talking about the inclusion of an anti-bias approach in my curriculum for young students. It “consists of confronting and eliminating barriers of prejudice, misinformation, and bias about specific aspects of personal and social identity” (Edwards & Sparks, 2009). This means actually calling attention to our differences, looking closely at how people are treated, and even discussing words and names that are hurtful or hushed.
It’s safer to stick in our same box of promoting kindness and friendship. But is that enough?
Some may be surprised to know that preschool students are already asking questions about racial identity and gender identity. It is apparent that they are also already developing attitudes about people with disabilities, different genders and races. Some of my students just this week recently expressed that another student in our class couldn’t be Bat-Girl for Halloween “because he’s a boy” and another time, “Princess Tiana has black skin, you have to be Sleeping Beauty”. Bias in our society are affecting them- they bring them into school and it affects the way they think, play, and think of themselves and others. Surprisingly, nothing in my preparation for teaching (until my present graduate work) prepared me for how to teach or respond to my students’ biases, or to promote an anti-biased curriculum.
Sure, I have a lot of experience with a “multicultural” curriculum. Though looking at that now, my schools have mostly taught multiculturalism in a “tourist’ approach. We have celebrated diverse holidays, looked at various traditional dress, foods,and symbols for a little while and then “go home” to our classroom not integrating it into the daily life of the classroom. I have to ask, does this process of learning about different cultures also teach stereotypes? Especially if we often look at the traditional foods, customs, and holidays-not the everyday present lives? It’s not enough. It has to become NORMATIVE in our classrooms. We don’t need a new curriculum, we do need to integrate various aspects of personal and social identity in our classroom continuously.
I found This film through Teaching for Change, which includes interviews with educators who support and are using an anti-bias approach in their classrooms. TOTALLY 80’s WARNING! Although the classroom scenes were filmed in the late 1980s, they still provide useful examples for development, reflection, and dialogue of a classroom of anti-bias education in action. You’ll see real life examples of how classrooms are taking:
Steps to take in creating a un-biased approach with students:
- Acknowledgment of differences, (denial can create a deep seeded fear of the differences we find in others)
2. Recognize unfair behavior and empathize with the recipient
3. Teach children how to actively change a bias situation
This is challenging in my teaching context. With preschoolers, discussions have to be short and meaning has to be within the children’s everyday lives. So, I aim to approach a more anti-bias curriculum and discuss issues through stories that help me do so.
Stories are very powerful. They may come in and not remember a thing I said, but they will remember the story. I see it when they “reread” and fill in the words they remember , when they use a conflict in a story in their imaginative play, and when they associate a new book to one previously read. Since stories are powerful, it’s important that as we choose books, we critically examine their words and their images to nurture our students’ sense of self, positive attitude toward others, and motivation to act for fairness.
This website is an invaluable guide in selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books
The Teach for Change site also has great anti-biased book lists with themes ranging from gender identity and economic class to racial identity and family structures.
Lastly, I think one of the most difficult and scary elements in activating this curriculum is how to inform and involve parents. What do you do if/when parents disagree? If this were an issue, I plan to engage in thoughtful dialogue which would respect other’s opinions and diversity, but communicate that biased behavior and actions are not to be accepted and allowed in my classroom. This is where the messy part comes in..and luckily I have not been in this situation yet. Has anyone else had a positive experience or have a great way to partner with parents in implementing an anti-bias curriculum?
As educators, we all have the wish for every child to develop to their fullest potential. We also do need to acknowledge though that the existence of bias in our society does not allow that to happen.
What ways are you promoting an anti bias approach in your classroom?