Here's What I Learned After My Son Faced Implicit Racial Bias in Kindergarten

Dec 30, 2016 12:00:00 AM


What is implicit racial bias? Implicit bias is the unconscious associations and assumptions made between groups of people which affect the routine classroom and administrative decisions that produce failure and achievement gaps with our Black and Brown children. Bias perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline and failure among our Latino and African American youth. Here are some other key points about implicit bias, courtesy of the Civil Rights Lawyers Committee: 1. Implicit bias impacts if not lowers teachers’ expectations for their students. Recent research indicates that teachers tend to hold lower achievement expectations for African American and Latino students than their White peers. 2. Subconscious fear felt by children of implicit bias affects the academic performance of Black and Latino students. When Black or Latino students fear that their performance on a test or other assessment will confirm a negative stereotype about their racial groups, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. 3. Implicit bias influences the way school administrators perceive student behavior. This idea explains why Black and Latino students are more likely to be referred to the office for punishment under subjective school policies than Whites.

Let's Get Personal

Unfortunately, I can relate to implicit bias. My son faced it when he was in kindergarten. He attended a public school that served predominantly White children, and the teacher targeted him frequently for behaviors most all kindergartners display—especially boys. In her eyes, my son was the culprit of any disruptions. I enrolled him there because the school scored well statewide and had several academic acknowledgements. But [pullquote position="right"]I never expected my son or any other child to be targeted in such a great school.[/pullquote] He was the youngest child in the class, one year behind most of the kids, yet the teacher felt compelled to refer him to the school psychologist in the very first trimester. I recall her telling me at the first parent-teacher conference that she didn’t think he had normal child development because a) my son drew a dog that was blue, b) made a drawing of Mommy that didn’t have enough hair, and c) she pointed to the fact that my son had a difficult time sitting down for too long. I reminded her that my son was at least a year younger than most of the kids in the class, but she didn’t feel that was relevant. She blamed my son for disruptions in the class, yet had zero suggestions for me on how I could help. Her implicit bias against my son led to her recommendation for his “expulsion.” He was only four years old. Well, perhaps expelling my four year old son was intentional and strategic? Could the root cause be the teacher’s lack of tolerance for the only Latino child in the class? She wasn’t kind to the African-American kid in the class either, and it was clear to me this was not the school for either of them. I took my son out of that school before the actual expulsion took place. My take away from this experience was quite simple: If the teacher does not believe in a child’s potential, the child will fail. Yet this is the case far too often at LAUSD and other school districts that don’t know how to inspire our children.

Cultivating compassion and belief

How many times have we heard that a kid failed at school, because he was troubled, disruptive, had anxiety or undiagnosed learning disabilities? But even before schools diagnose our children, they must address both implicit bias and mindfulness, in order to cultivate compassion and belief in the potential of all our children. Tyrone C. Howard, Ph.D., associate dean for equity and inclusion at UCLA’s graduate school of education and information studies, recently spoke to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) about how implicit bias creates an achievement gap in our schools. “Bias is real and discrimination is rampant,” Howard told the district. “Even teachers of color have biases against students of color.” In my own experience, this is true. My son’s teacher was Latina, but she chose to work at a predominantly White school and targeted children of color. But it is also true that there is a new wave of mindfulness, and acknowledgement among younger teachers that implicit bias is real, and that they can do something about it. If they don’t make assumptions on our kids because of the color of their skin and motivate them while believing in their potential, the future of our children can change. [pullquote position="left"]Schools must encourage teachers to see the potential in every child[/pullquote]. I know that the teachers who believed in me were also my mentors and allowed me to believe in myself, and I will never forget them. The bad teachers for me were outnumbered by all the ones that believed in me. The teachers who didn’t believe in me, predicted I would fail to my face and in front of the entire classroom, and also told my parents. These are the teachers we need to transform or eliminate. However, we can’t improve our system by only targeting teachers. It’s about changing an entire system from top to bottom and bottom to top. My son thrived after he was placed in a school with a system that truly cared for each child and saw each one as a gift full of tremendous potential. My father always said, “Children are like knowledge sponges. They soak up all that we teach them.” Our "knowledge sponges" would also dry up if there's no belief in their potential, or any support needed to succeed or the daily inspiration for them to work hard. Whether it’s unconscious or conscious, our schools can’t accept or tolerate implicit bias. At the core of all of this is our leadership at the schools. We need leaders that are transformational, accountable, transparent and passionate about the children. Educational leaders should believe in the success of each child. Schools must be more intentional about their values and demonstrate them to our kids because these kids are soaking it all up.
An original version of this post appeared on the La Comadre blog as Do Teachers Believe in Our Students?
Photo courtesy of La Comadre.

Ed Post Staff

The Feed


  • What's an IEP and How to Ensure Your Child's Needs Are Met?

    Ed Post Staff

    If you have a child with disabilities, you’re not alone: According to the latest data, over 7 million American schoolchildren — 14% of all students ages 3-21 — are classified as eligible for special...

  • Seeking Justice for Black and Brown Children? Focus on the Social Determinants of Health

    Laura Waters

    The fight for educational equity has never been just about schools. The real North Star for this work is providing opportunities for each child to thrive into adulthood. This means that our advocacy...

  • Why Math Identity Matters

    Lane Wright

    The story you tell yourself about your own math ability tends to become true. This isn’t some Oprah aphorism about attracting what you want from the universe. Well, I guess it kind of is, but...