Will Mandatory Anti-Bias Training Eliminate or Increase Implicit Bias’?

It was the first session of a graduate education class; I introduced myself and asked an icebreaker question: “Take a few minutes and write your philosophy of education,” everybody busily scribbled away except Muhammad, who was Afro-American, an adult convert to Islam and had been a biochemist at a major company. I called on Mohammad first: “All white people are racist, what matters is their ability to deal with their racism.”  I switched my plans and asked the students to respond to Mohammad. Some were outraged, “How can you call me a racist? You’ve never even met me,” Another student, “I grappling with this question, I’m a white guy from the suburbs, and how can I relate to students of color?”

It was an interesting term.

Race was the subtext of many conversations.

If kids are not connected to a lesson how do you know it and how do you respond?   A major theme was if you want to change outcomes you have to change inputs, you have to be able to adjust your teaching to the needs of the kids if you want to change the behaviors of the kids. You have to get beyond preconceived notions, bias.

If you assign easier texts, assign below grade level work, is that an appropriate response or is that an implicit bias?

Should you assign “culturally relevant” texts or texts that resonate with the kids? Or, both?

I asked a few high school teachers what texts the kids like best; one told me “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Tennessee Williams?  She said yes, the kids loved reading about really, really dysfunctional white people. Another teacher taught Robert W Service poems “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, which he described as “white hip-hop,” and asked the kids to write their own hip-hop in the same meter.

Another teacher averred, “I’m a good teacher; the kids simply don’t care.” The teacher was Nigerian.

Race and ethnicity are complicated.

While the New York City school system may be 40% Latinx; the kids come from many Spanish speaking nations with very different cultures. Teachers from the Caribbean are culturally very different from kids they teach from Brooklyn.

The decision to require that over the next few years all teachers will participate in Implicit Bias or perhaps called Anti-Bias Training makes a key assumption: that the training will reduce bias, however you define the term, and improve outcomes for students.

Chalkbeat, the education news website interviewed teachers, the results were mixed.

  • , New York City teachers have had divergent responses to anti-bias training.Most of the 70 or so teachers and staff who responded to a Chalkbeat survey say they found the five-hour training useful. A teacher at a school in the South Bronx said it was helpful to have group discussions about data showing how students of color have been “over-policed” compared to white students. But others raised concerns. Another administrator thought the session had only succeeded in creating “resentment” and would cause her to “second guess every decision I make.”

The New York Post interviewed teachers who sharply criticized the training, finding it insulting, and for a few, anti-Semitic.

A core question: does anti-bias training actually reduce bias?

A recent article in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science  “Ironic Effects of Anti-Prejudice Message,” warns,

 “Controlling prejudice reduction practices are tempting because they are quick and easy to implement. They tell people how they should think and behave and stress the negative consequences of failing to think and behave in desirable ways.” [The author] continues, “But people need to feel that they are freely choosing to be nonprejudiced, rather than having it forced upon them.”

]The author]stresses the need to focus less on the requirement to reduce prejudices and start focusing more on the reasons why diversity and equality are important and beneficial to both majority and minority group members.

The New York Post article led to an op ed sharply critical of the chancellor and a lengthy response   from Kirkland, the Director of the Metro Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools and at NYU, Kirkland wrote,

When institutions such as schools, that wield powerful influence over the lives of children, are not anti-biased, they are unequivocally dangerous. Thus, we recognize the need for educators to (1) become aware of the manifestations of racism and privilege in our own lives, in the systems we create and support, and in our cultures, (2) work together in community to dismantle and reorganize the systems that support racism and privilege, (3) actively support each other and our families to acknowledge, honor, and appreciate differences, and (4)  incorporate anti-bias education at every level of American education.

 David’s predecessor at the Center, Pedro Noguera has doubts,

Pedro Noguera‏ @PedroANoguera 5h5 hours ago

Many were surprised when I expressed skepticism about the value of anti-bias training. I do believe racial bias is real and pervasive. I don’t believe you can be trained out of it unless you are open to unlearning it. To me, addressing structural inequities is far more important.

If you want to check out the training itself the website describes the training, which compressed a six month course into a five hour training.

We all have inherent bias,’ some we’re aware of and struggle to overcome, some are subconscious, and some we just live with.

Police officers shoot innocent Afro-Americans who they see as threatening, Afro-Americans may see Jews as “good with money,” and on and on. As teachers we have to acknowledge bias, on our part and on the part of the children we teach and their parents.

We have to move beyond, we have to deal with students one by one, and we have to seek out the trigger, seek out that path that leads the student to maximize their talents and beyond.

Staffs that include a wide range of races and ethnicities allow us to learn from each other and encourage us to use each other to maximize our collective talents, and, to move beyond our bias.’

3 responses to “Will Mandatory Anti-Bias Training Eliminate or Increase Implicit Bias’?

  1. Marc Korashan

    It seems to me that the issue f implicit bias for teachers is rooted in “should.” Teachers expect that their students will behave and learn in the same ways they did. Students “should” recognize the value of and do homework; students should be interested in the classic works that teachers are expected to teach and see that they need to learn history in order to be able to confront the results of racial and economic inequities. Most importantly students should see themselves as active agents in a much wider world than they live in.

    Confronting the biases in all those shoulds requires making teacher aware of them and then empowering the teachers to change the curriculum (give up pacing calendars and coverage) to meet their students where the students live. Creating engaging, relevant curricula is hard work and is discouraged in the current test and punish mentality.

    Eliminating bias will require more than five hour trainings. It will require a real look at and reform of the nineteenth century model of schooling that is still in use in the United States.


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