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Anti-bias curriculum in a multicultural society

For an adult, negotiating co-existence in a modern multicultural society can sometimes feel like trying to walk through a land mine. Could this negotiation have been made easier if correct cultural conditioning had been provided to the individual as a child through anti-bias education? According to the Anti-Bias Movement, the answer is a resounding yes.  

 The birth of the anti-bias body of thought

The Anti-Bias Movement is the brainchild of the Multiculturalism Movement. Proponents of the Multiculturalism Movement wanted individuals to learn something beyond the basic facts about other cultures. They wanted young learners, especially, to have a rich awareness of various cultures and ethnic groups, and to identify cultures as being different from each other, not superior or inferior. They also wanted an approach that would offer a rounded view of cultural and ethnic problems and issues. Multiculturalism activists hit upon introducing anti-bias practices and multiracial education in early education as a better way to see the changes that the Multiculturalism Movement originally intended.

 An anti-bias curriculum

This curriculum, according to its proponents, challenges all forms of prejudices such as racism, sexism, ageism, ableism/disablism and other negative attitudes. As a constructive methodology, the anti-bias approach is designed to help children be comfortable about their self and group identities, and become sensitive to issues that arise out of cultural differences. The most crucial difference between a multicultural curriculum and an anti-bias curriculum is the age of the audience.

 Anti-bias education in early childhood

Children are quick learners and are very aware of differences in color, physical ability, gender and language at a very young age. In the absence of any guidance, they will arrive at their own explanations in a effort to understand these differences by absorbing spoken and unspoken messages and the treatment based upon those differences. For example, if a parent or teacher unknowingly states most African-Americans are poorly educated then the child will come to the same conclusion.

Supporters of the anti-bias curriculum argue that this can undermine the child's development and make it difficult for them to interact with culturally different people. Therefore, incorporating an anti-bias curriculum in early childhood can nurture and activate the child's development by engaging them in the issues of equity and diversity in the classroom.

 In their article titled Implementing an Anti-Bias Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms, the two main anti-bias advocates Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Bisson Hohensee list that the specific anti-bias curriculum goals are to foster each child's:

 1. Construction of a knowledgeable, confident self-identity.

2. Comfortable, empathic interaction with people from diverse backgrounds.

3. Critical thinking about bias.

4. Ability to stand up for herself or himself, and for others, in the face of bias.

 Implementing anti-bias curriculum in the classroom

When applying the anti-bias curriculum in the classroom, committed teachers can take a multi-step approach. These are:

 1. Setting up an awareness support group for teachers: Experts suggest that teachers should study their own biases first as a way to identify and eliminate the influence of their personal prejudices on teaching. Support groups can be formed by teachers, parents and child-care personnel dedicated to anti-bias. Groups should ideally meet once a month. 

 2.  Analyzing the child's awareness: Engage students in a discussion to understand their prejudices and biases. Ask them questions and observe their responses and comfort/ discomfort level. This can help when planning anti-bias activities and lesson plans. It will also help the teacher understand how children perceive the world around them, isolate the source of their biases, and enhance positive learning patterns.

 3. Evaluating the environment: A child's environment can subconsciously reinforce certain biases. For instance do all the pictures in the classrooms feature Caucasians? Are there any pictures of politically and culturally important individuals from other ethnic groups? If children in class have gender stereotype biases – women cook, men work etc – then consider introducing them to environments that break these biases.

 4. Anti-bias activities: When incorporating anti-bias activities, seize moments that afford plenty of material for study and thought. For example, if a physically challenged student joins the class, read relevant curriculum materials to get an idea about what to do. Find out from other teachers and/or child experts how to help the other students accept the newcomer.  Derman-Sparks in her article suggests an activity about skin color, such as mixing paints to find children's individual skin colors. Also, begin involving parents through newsletters, individual meetings and parent conferences to help them identify their children's biases and attitudes at home.

 5. Reassess and analyze: Anti-bias education is an ongoing process, so set up check points through the course of the school year. Use these check points to assess changes in attitudes, progress or lack thereof, whether the curriculum needs to be fine-tuned to adapt to the changing classroom etc. Evaluate mistakes, share successes, provide encouragement and constantly plan the next move.

 How to measure success?

Anti-bias education is an initiative that yields measurable results. Here are some questions to ponder over when measuring the success of the curriculum in the classroom:

  1. Is the child exhibiting a positive self-identity and understanding of his/her own uniqueness and the uniqueness of others?
  2. Does the child accept, understand and feel comfortable about the differences in individuals and cultures?
  3. Has the child broken free of stereotypes?
  4. Does the child's attitude and approach enable them to live in a multicultural and multiracial world?

 Anti-bias education is slowly but surely being adopted and adapted into classrooms that boast of a multicultural mix. It is hoped that anti-bias education will provide the much needed path for children to tread on as they grow into adulthood and fit into a world made of many colors, languages, religions and ideas.

 Some recommended reads

Derman-Sparks, L. “Anti-Bias, Multicultural Curriculum: What is Developmentally Appropriate?”

 Derman-Sparks, L. “What If All Kids Are White?:Anti-bias Multicultural Education With Young Children And Families (Early Childhood Education Series)”

 Thomson, Barbara J. “Words Can Hurt You: Beginning a Program of Anti-Bias Education.”

 Wardle, F. “Endorsing Children's Differences: Meeting the Needs of Adopted Minority Children.”

 Bisson, Julie. “Celebrate!: An Anti-Bias Guide to Enjoying Holidays in Early Childhood Programs.”

 Jacobson, Tamar. “Confronting Our Discomfort: Clearing the Way for Anti-Bias in Early Childhood.”

 Sprung, Barbara. “The Anti-Bullying and Teasing Book: For Preschool Classrooms.”

Multicultural resources, Indigenous, Maori, Cultural Diversity in childcare, multiculturalism, cultural learning resources