We Need Anti-Bias Education, And We Need It Now

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 

Researchers were calling it the “Trump Effect”: Educators complaining that Trump’s rhetoric had infiltrated their classrooms, causing bullying and name-calling. During the second debate, Clinton told a story about a child named Felix who asked his parents if he would be deported. A Fairfax County mother said on Facebook that two of her son’s classmates had “pointed out ‘immigrants’ in the class who would be sent home under a Trump presidency.” Teaching Tolerance, an arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center, released a statement based on a survey of teachers stating:

“It’s producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom. Many students worry about being deported … Other students have been emboldened by the divisive, often juvenile rhetoric in the campaign. Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.”

We need anti-bias education. And we need it now.

According to Teaching for Change, whose motto is “Building Social Justice Starting in the Classroom,” anti-bias education is “an approach to early childhood education that sets forth values-based principles and methodology in support of respecting and embracing differences and acting against bias and unfairness. … The overarching goal is creating a climate of positive self and group identity development, through which every child will achieve her or his fullest potential.”

Basically, kids are taught to recognize and respect differences, speak out against bias, and develop a cohesive group identity in which each child is valued.

We need this kind of curriculum right now. Immediately after Trump’s win, minorities were scared. Alicia Scotland-Smalls told Al Jazeera, “Given that racism was part of Trump’s campaign, I am afraid that racists might feel emboldened to commit acts of violence and discrimination against our community.”

Scotland-Smalls is right to be afraid. Fusion has kept a running list of some of the racist incidents since Trump’s election:

– Swastikas were drawn in Philadelphia and Wellsville, New York, and New York City.

– Fuck [n-word] #fuckallporchmonkeys #whitesonly #whiteAmerica was scrawled on a high school student’s locker at Maple Grove High School in Minnesota.

– A Newtown, Pennsylvania, high school had swastikas and “Trump-related graffiti” scrawled in restrooms.

Students carrying Trump signs chanted “White power!” as they walked through the York County School of Technology in Pennsylvania.

Granite School District in Utah says it has had reports of everything from kindergarteners harassing kindergarteners and on up to the high school level. These included comments to Latinos like “You wetbacks need to go back to Mexico,” and “You get a free trip back to Mexico, you should be happy.”

Students at Royal Oak Middle School in a suburb of Detroit were videotaped chanting “Build the wall!” while Latino children watched and cried.

The list goes on and on and on: against gay families, against black people, against Indians and Latinos.

Some of the swastika-drawers may be too late for the school system to catch. But the uptick in hate crimes means that we need to do something — all the other harassment and crimes cited here were committed by school students. Teaching students that LGBTQ people and people of color are an important part of our country will teach those white students to see them not as them but as us.

An attack on a black student becomes an attack on the group as a whole.

Anti-bias education would not only help minority students feel safe in schools but would also give white students the tools they need to stand up to violence outside of school. Anti-bias education teaches students not to minimize differences but to recognize and celebrate them. It not only “deepens their understanding of other people, cultures, and families,” says one school that’s implemented it, “but also strengthens their fundamental thinking skills. Knowing how to recognize stereotypes and preconceptions, how to distinguish between opinion and fact, how to draw valid conclusions from observations […].”

Even The New Yorker admits that “there has been a dramatic uptick in incidents of racist and xenophobic harassment across the country.” The appointment of people like Steve Bannon as chief strategist, mouthpiece of the alt-right (or as some call it, alt-white) movement, and Jeff Sessions, who made such racist statements that he couldn’t be appointed as a federal judge during the 1980s, has only further concerned and frightened minority communities and emboldened those who would spraypaint a swastika on a Philadelphia business on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. We can’t get to those people. But with anti-bias education, we can save our children from imitating their hatred.

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