Updated: Apr 6, 2021
It is a known fact that we all have implicit biases. That includes you, and you, and yes, you. These unconscious decisions that guide our attitudes and actions have a way of weaving themselves into how we view people, cultures, and communities. They affect the quality of our interactions and at times generate consequences that negatively impact an individual of a specific race, group, or gender.
During the past several years, an eye-opener of national research revealed some scary truths of biases and black boys in early childhood classrooms. You may be on your couch right now asking, “What are you talking ’bout Jerry? Bias? Early childhood classrooms? Black boys? Where is this dude headed with his post?!"
As mentioned in the first part of this two-part blog series, I shared with you the troubling truths of a Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights 2016 report. Young black boys falling victim to zero-tolerance misbehavior policies that target their play and interactions as problematic and dangerous.
The report revealed that implicit biases do not start with our black men and their interactions with police officers, but unfortunately manifest themselves in early childhood classrooms with young black boys and their preschool teachers. A sad truth that comes with severe consequences and outcomes if not properly addressed.
So, how do we move this conversation from a smorgasbord of problems to a pipe dream of concrete, attainable, and intentional solutions? Here is the answer in a nutshell – Our early childhood classrooms should be led by teachers that are culturally sensitive and responsive to all young children.
The article entitled Culturally Responsive Teaching: What You Need to Know, refers to cultural responsiveness as the approach used by teachers to create thoughtful and meaningful connections between children’s play and learning and their cultures, languages, and life experiences. In other words, having teachers in the classrooms that are culturally and racially aware and connected to children.
You might be wondering, "Okay Jerry, that’s great, but how do we build a workforce of early childhood professionals that can accomplish this?"
Let me keep it simple and list one of my solutions- (I got to watch my word count – this is a blog you know). It is essential that a state’s early learning coalitions take a hard look at professional development requirements for individuals that are currently employed as early childhood teachers or are planning to enter the profession.
This will involve a heavier focus on requiring early childhood professionals to actively participate in annual training opportunities that provide a safe, nonjudgmental space to learn more about their unconscious biases and how they affect black children and other children of color.
This includes mandated training on topics that are truly relevant to the racial and cultural climate in this country. Hot topics that make the list are approaching learning through equity lenses, diversity in the classroom and curriculum, race-related teaching practices, and using cultural responsiveness to support behavioral challenges with black preschool boys.
Whew! I know that is a lot, but it is going to take a lot to begin changing the trajectory of guaranteeing young children the right to be in a bias-free early learning environment.
The days when early childhood professionals have the option of learning anti-bias, diversity, cultural, and race-related teaching practices should be long gone. Rather, these types of training should be a priority in their professional development. There is too much work to be done to protect our children from teachers who freely glitter classroom experiences with unconscious biases.
What a difference it will make if we begin empowering our early childhood workforce with the language, strategies, and teaching practices necessary to interact with a high level of cultural sensitivity when providing learning and play activities for young children. All young children, especially black and children of color, deserve to be in a classroom community where their culture and cultural experiences are seen and heard. A classroom that blossoms with equity, cultural responsiveness, and humanity.
Barack Obama once said – “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress”.
I’m ready to take that long walk down the path of change and progress – who is with me?
~Jerry A. Graham, Virginia Quality Technical Assistant