How To Break Negative Prejudice In The Classroom
As a professor of education with the graduate program at the University of Denver, I find myself studying the effect of unconscious bias—or internalized stereotypes—on students’ achievement.
It matters because stereotyping negatively affects children’s self-worth and academic performance. In fact, research shows that racially and gender stereotypes hold about 100 character attributes and messages that influence brain activity. The trick is to dig deeper and avoid these stereotypes.
In speaking with educators, I’ve learned some strategies that help:
Talk candidly about stereotypes in class. Teaching without prejudice is ultimately a poor practice because it denies children the opportunity to learn that respect and unconditional love are the foundations of understanding, learning, and education.
Unconsciously, we cultivate stereotypes with our own thoughts and words—past, present, and future. In the classroom, it’s a common misconception that dominant students stand tallest, and all students stand low; the truth is, it’s rarely the opposite.
For example, when students see white men who sit together as older, their imagination and sense of personal value and security may be altered. However, it’s also important to note that all students are diminished by such stereotypes. All students are vulnerable to the unconscious effects of negative stereotypes.
“You students could stand out more” While discussing stereotypes in class, ask students what they’d do if they thought they stood out a little bit more.
Using such hypothetical situations, students learn to see their own behaviors in non-judgmental ways and bring these new perspectives to their own lives.
Educators and students often wish that more mental shortcuts could be used by teachers or even know-it-alls. We teach intelligent students how to grasp the complexities of information, and we teach without prejudice how to cultivate students’ intelligence, passion, and commitment to learning. But we need to change our responses to the complex multidimensional realities of what it means to be human.