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The Importance of Discussing Unconscious Bias in the Classroom

Unconscious biases, also known as implicit biases or associations, are social stereotypes about a person, thing or group of people that are considered negative or unfair. Biases can be held by a group, institution or individual. Unconscious biases come from a person’s tendency to organize social worlds and cultures by categorizing. These biases can be made more apparent during stressful times since many people’s unconscious biases are often incompatible with their conscious values. Whether conscious or unconscious, biases are not limited to race or ethnicity. Biases can exist toward anyone’s age, physical abilities, sexual orientation, weight, speaking accent, gender, religion and more.

Norfolk State University’s online Master of Arts (M.A.) in Urban Education with a concentration in English program prepares graduates to educate diverse students to help them find their full potential. To do this, educators must clearly understand unconscious bias and its implications in the classroom. The Multicultural Concepts and Perspectives course provides students with the tools to consider, appreciate and discuss the factors contributing biases of all kinds. The class also examines the impact of culture on behavior and provides knowledge that graduates can use to increase their effectiveness in counseling and leading individuals from other cultures.

By learning about the cultural norms of specific groups of people and exploring the importance of implementation of equity of policies and procedures, decision-making approaches and counseling techniques and skills that meet the needs of a diverse society, graduates can explore ways in which their respective cultures form their worldview and how that worldview impacts their interactions with others.

Some Challenges Educators Face in the Classroom

Unconscious bias forms over time, and we unconsciously enact racial biases towards groups of people without recognizing these actions. As many educators struggle with unconscious bias in school, they can unknowingly affect students negatively and perpetuate racism. When educators discuss race and racism in the classroom, many may feel uncomfortable and want to stop the conversation and transition to a more comfortable topic.

Educators should develop a level of comfort with discomfort in talking about the important topics of race, bias, equity, diversity, inclusion and racism. By having these vital conversations more often, teachers can navigate the topics and realize that discomfort is a part of having an enlightened conversation with their students.

Some examples of unconscious bias that can manifest themselves in the classroom are when a teacher only calls on white male students while calling on other students is less frequent, a tendency for the teacher to associate lower proficiency with spoken English with below-average writing skills, requesting that a student “Anglicize” their name to make it easier to pronounce, and a presumption that students have an interest in issues related to their ethnicity, race or home country.

These types of biases can hinder student engagement and success. Students can also think that their teacher doesn’t like them or value their thoughts and opinions if teachers leave their unconscious biases unchecked. When educators recognize that they hold these unconscious biases, they can use their classroom as a force for positive change. Identifying the behaviors that devalue or marginalize others requires acknowledgment and a shift to modify thoughts and behaviors.

About Norfolk State University’s Online Master of Arts in Urban Education – English Program

Norfolk State’s online M.A. in Urban Education – English program allows students to put their love of words into action by becoming qualified teachers in urban education. Students in this program will study scholarly research and methodology, technical writing, composition and rhetoric and understand the relationships between language, culture and perception.

Learn more about Norfolk State University’s online M.A. in Urban Education with a concentration in English degree program.

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