Dealing with Unconscious Bias in Schools

Here’s an accessible article about implicit bias in schools, with a quick overview of the state of the research on how to combat it. The article appeared earlier this week on The Brown Center Chalkboard, a blog of the Brookings Institution. We promise it’s an easy read that won’t make you feel bad or hopeless.  It touches on the following key points:

What is unconscious bias (UB)?

UB is the phenomenon in which stereotypes, positive or negative, influence decisions and behaviors without the individual consciously acting on the stereotype or being aware that he or she is doing so. Moreover, UB can occur even when individuals know or believe the stereotype to be false.

There’s an evidence base indicating it exists.

There is ample evidence of UB in educational settings, both in experimental labs and “in the field” with real individuals who were unaware of their participation in an experiment.

Students who are used to being on the losing end of a stereotype are highly primed to see bias.

Additionally, individuals from stereotyped out-groups themselves react negatively to seemingly innocuous environmental factors, such as the demographic composition of a classroom, the race or sex of an instructor or proctor, and even the design and decoration of the classroom.

There’s research on what to do to counteract UB. “Teacher-facing” interventions hold the most promise, though more study is needed. Key suggestions include:

  • Nurture employees’ motivation to reduce UB by building an awareness of one’s own biases without shaming or blaming
  • Develop an awareness of the shared psychological basis for UB and of the fact that UB is a naturally occurring, physiological phenomenon
  • Evaluate individuals based on their own unique attributes and not through their group membership (social, demographic, or otherwise)
  • Reduce the anxiety created by cross-group interactions by increasing the frequency of such interactions, particularly in low-stakes settings
  • Encourage empathy and perspective-taking
  • Build partnerships and teams that reduce out-group status

The blog post links to many additional resources and reports on unconscious bias and ways to reduce it. Highly recommended as an entry point!

(Image copied from the above-referenced Brookings Chalkboard post)

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