On July 23rd, early childhood education instructor, author and founder of Threads of Justice, Katie Kissinger, held a discussion on anti-bias education at Baltimore’s Red Emma’s Coffee Shop.
Kissinger’s passion for social justice and activism started as a teenager when she attended a collaborative project which brought Chicago black and white youth together to reflect on the issues of racism and poverty. This first experience would become an initial step for Kissinger on a road that would lead her to activism against bias, particularly implicit bias, in school settings.
“I was exposed, for the first time, into the realities of racism and poverty and recognizing my part in that as a white person. And it kind of completely dismantled my world view in a way that allowed me to see injustice first hand,” said Kissinger. “We were assigned projects, one with a local organizing group and mine was the Welfare Rights Organization which was on the south side of Chicago at the time. This was 1969, they were a powerful group of African American women knocking door to door organizing folks on assistance, so, that was what I did day to day.”
After this experience, Kissinger returned home and informed her family she was “joining the revolution.” This led to her acquiring her B.A. in Sociology and a job at Head Start where she would begin to develop an interest in fighting implicit bias, specifically, within education.
“My first job with my new degree was working for a Head Start Program and, so, that’s when I sort of started to look at education as a different kind of vehicle for social change and social justice. I worked in Head Start for a few years and, then, I had an opportunity to go to Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena,” said Kissinger. “It was a Quaker-founded-college where they believed that what’s missing in teacher education is supporting the development of social conscious. So, all the theory and everything we looked at in that degree of human development was grounded in challenging the status quo, the white supremacist paradigm and that allowed me to combine my anti-oppression passion with education.”
According to the Kirwan Institute for Race and Ethnicity, implicit bias is “attitudes and stereotypes that affect people’s actions, perceptions and decisions”. In contrast to “outright bias”, implicit bias is more present at a subconscious level and many who rely on it are often unaware of its presence.
Kimberly Papillon, recognized as an expert on race and the national justice system, uses neuroscience to explain how implicit bias is present, even in those who claim to hold no prejudices.
In her implicit bias primer, Papillion explains that many studies have found the same areas of the human brain that light up when confronted by a spider or snake, become more active when exposed to pictures of African-American faces versus Caucasian faces.
Papillion writes, “What is truly remarkable is that many of the people who have this reaction state they have no conscious bias or prejudice towards others. They have no idea that these reactions are going on in their minds.”
Despite Kissinger’s good intentions and a plethora of research to support her actions, she has found opposition to anti-bias activism in schools.
“Particularly in early-childhood education. There are a lot of people, in fact, it’s probably the prevailing myth around this, is that a lot of people don’t think this is a topic for young kids at all. They think young kids don’t see differences which is completely not true,” said Kissinger. “So, this is a myth we come across where they think we are posing problems by talking about differences with young children and trying to get people to see that silence around these issues is actually laying the foundation for what we call ‘pre-prejudice.’”
Implicit bias takes form in the suspension rate among students of color versus their white counterparts, as well as, how teachers interact differently with male and female students.
A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found teachers have an implicit bias about gender and math skills, often giving female students higher scores on “name-blind math test” only to score them lower than their male peers when the tests were no longer blind.
However, the research goes beyond academic areas and explains how males and females are managed differently in classrooms.
According to “Time”, researchers Myra and David Sadker, as well as Karen R. Zittleman “found that teachers spend up to two-thirds of their time talking to male students; they also are more likely to interrupt girls but allow boys to talk over them. Teachers also tend to acknowledge girls but praise and encourage boys. They spend more time prompting boys to seek deeper answers while rewarding girls for being quiet.”
The short-term effects of implicit bias include higher suspension and disciplinary rates among students of color, as well an early ingrained lesson to girls that they are meant to be seen and not heard.
The long-term effects can include failure to keep up with peers due to constant loss of class time, increased drop-out rates, a wider gender-gap in STEM and a more detrimental school-to-prison pipeline.
However, Kissinger doesn’t let the statistics deter her. She believes even if a child doesn’t receive anti-bias education in the early years, it is never too late.
“I believe it’s never too late but it gets harder and harder. Their socialization has already happened to them,” said Kissinger. “So, for them it’s more similar to what happens to all of us adults is that we have to unlearn and heal from whatever socializations we have, whether we were socialized to participate in the oppression of others or whether we were targeted by it, there’s that ‘work to be done’ [mentality] that gets in the way of us being fully human and fully able to participate in the liberation of all human beings.”
Have a story you want to tell? Reach out to me at natashalanewrites@gmail.com
Threads of Justice Website
Kirwan Institute-Understanding Implicit Bias
Equal Justice Society Implicit Bias Primer
“Time Magazine”-Teachers Bias Against Girls In Education
National Bureau of Economic Research Study
Kirwan Institute -School Discipline