Is Unbiased Education A Myth?

At Rasmussen College – School of Education, we offer a Dynamics of the Family class; where students discuss what it takes to work with families. Students in this class are beginning to put their base knowledge of Early Childhood Education to the test while they consider a child’s larger and most important world: family and culture.

Not a week goes by that doesn’t send me scurrying for my pen to note an important thought or shared concern we all have about a personal, deeply challenging topic that often underlies our conversations: bias.

What is “bias”? A dictionary will give you many meanings, but the two that will be my focus are:

· Influence in an unfair way; "you are biasing my choice by telling me yours."
· A partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation.

Consider these for a moment in the context of Early Childhood Education. How do children learn best? Modeling. Who do they watch first as their models? Their teachers and their family members.

If a child is influenced by what YOU, his or her parent or teacher, thinks and feels, won’t the child then be partial to your way of thinking? Will that then hinder his or her objective consideration of the world? Simply put: children model behavior—aversions or likings—to their adult role models.

Imagine a parent or caregiver that is uncomfortable with issues like sexual preferences, racial differences, or religious beliefs. One can quickly see that young children, the world is a maze of ideas and opinions –or biases– that are not initially their own. However, to a young children who are merely absorbing their parents and caregiver’s ideas… these biases feel like truth.

Can you see the danger? In considering excellence in our methods of education we always have to consider the individual needs of children. In many instances we must leave our own, personal biases at classroom doors.

On the surface, this seems logical to almost everyone in the education field. However, when you put this method into action it can quickly become difficult. For example, during a recent presidential campaign my son heard a political ad supporting the candidate that I did not support. I had never directly discussed politics with my son, but he heard me talking about my opinions with others. This political ad was, admittedly, rather intriguing; and when he heard it over the car radio he piped up from the backseat and asked, “Mama… Did you like that ad?” I remarked that I thought it was clever, yes. Then, after a pause he asked, “Mama? I can’t remember. WHO do we wish will become President again? Was it the guy in THAT ad? Can we like that ad if it’s not our team?”

I was flabbergasted that my political views resonated so clear in my son’s mind. I was dumbstruck that my child, the kin of an early childhood professional could be so biased. He never considered naming “his team” anything other than what his parent thought was right. I contemplated this reality and wondered how in the world I would ever raise an open-minded, non-biased citizen.

It is profoundly important to remember that young children will be biased according to the thoughts and feelings of their family and culture. There is no escape from enculturation—and sometimes, this can be a good thing. This presents a challenge only when we forget it, when we don’t understand that our opinions and biases, when voiced, affect those who have yet to form their own.

You can see why education degree-seeking students get so excited in class each week. We discuss matters of children’s lives, the ideals, best practices of a pre-school context, and before we know it we are debating religion, discipline, and skin color, and all of the many different ways our clients will challenge us to be unbiased and welcoming in our classrooms and offices.

Unbiased and welcoming to every child? What a beautiful world that will be…

Kelly Lee Kist

Kelly Lee Kist is an Early Childhood Program Coordinator for Rasmussen College Online. After two decades of Preschool Teaching, Mentoring and Development she has left her school and the non-profit agency, The Seasons Way, in good hands in California and relocated to the Twin Cities to focus more exclusively on assisting students seeking Early Childhood Education degrees.

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