CULTURAL BIAS IN THE CLASSROOM
It is a fact that in some schools, students are being hurtful to one another for no apparent reason. This could come in many forms, this may be physical or in some other form of discrimination. It is important, if not imperative to get students to recognize the importance of being kind to others. This explains the importance of developing an anti-bias curriculum approach to building friendships and relationships in the classroom. The rationale is because "through anti-bias curriculum children learn to think more critically, empathize with each other, get along with others who have different points of view and cultural traditions, and take pride in their own heritage" (Byrnes & Kiger, 2005).
It is also critical that children see themselves and hear their voices in the classroom. In the subject of languages, children are not only learning to read and write texts: they are learning to read and write human possibilities. They read each other's faces and clothes as they do any storybook, and they write each other's future in the stories they imagine (Dyson, 1997). The message the children receive, either by what is included or what is excluded, is a representation of "what counts as knowledge, what counts as communities of learning, what social relationships matter, and what visions of the future can be represented as legitimate" (Aronowitz & Giroux, cited in Giroux, 1999).
One important step in implementing an anti-bias curriculum involves having the children examine overt types of discrimination in a novel. To cite as an example, the book series on Harry Potter could be used. In the story, there are certain traces of discrimination or bias among the characters. Let’s take some examples. Hermione is not from a pure-blood wizarding family. Her parents are muggles (humans); some pure-blood wizarding families call such mixed wizards "mud-bloods."
This novel addresses the issue that name-calling is unacceptable, but it does not provide children with the resources on how to educate themselves about the derogatory use of labels and what to do when it happens. After the read-aloud, the children should be instructed to write down how they felt about name-calling.
While the children may empathize with Hermione and reveal similar experiences that affected their sense of worth and self when it comes to classroom cultural biasness, it is still not satisfactory that the children just relate their experiences. Having them reflect on their own experiences of discrimination and listening to how others may have made them feel does prove to promote acceptance, but it does not provide the children with a sense of empowerment. Thus further lessons and teaching strategies should be done.
Another step in instilling the anti-bias approach is deciphering hidden discrimination. Children do not just listen to a story; they usually absorb every word and take the contents at face value. Giving the students the tools to dismantle the text is a critical step in empowering them to achieve critical thinking.
These discussions will lead students to begin examining storybooks in the class and school library. Their fervent inquiries will also lead the teacher to reflect on the limited variety of children's books that are made available in the classroom and how this lack of representation may have affected their sense of self-worth and relevance in the classroom and school community. The children may also begin to examine the textbooks and to question the "invisibility" of women and certain cultural groups in the texts.
Educators should not assume that what they teach is more important than how they teach. A traditional focus on content led to the development of state-mandated curricula and national social science texts that did not represent the backgrounds of non-white students and children of recent immigrants. Consequently, discussions about multicultural education are often debates about what content should and should not be taught.
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