Teaching Students to Think Critically About Bias
Culturally responsive teaching is at the heart of our mission to be inclusive at EPIC Academy. And while we take many steps to implicitly create a sense of belonging within our walls (such as carefully constructing lesson materials to include a variety of perspectives and representation, teaching about a diverse array of historical figures, etc), we also understand the importance of teaching students to explicitly recognize bias from a young age.
One exercise we do yearly within each of our class families is a survey of the representation of main characters among the books in our class libraries. And although each year our libraries have gotten more diverse as we make intentional choices regarding the books we purchase and the perspectives they represent, we still find each year that the dominant category is white protagonists, followed by animal main characters.
Our reason for conducting these surveys with students, rather than solely as a staff team, is to address the concept of implicit bias with our students from an early age. Every person will grow up internalizing an array of implicit biases, but we can help our children learn to recognize these within themselves by talking about bias directly and pointing out the various ways in which they are influenced on a daily basis. Even kindergartners are old enough to understand that their standards of beauty and ideas about who can be a hero are regularly informed by the characters they interact with in the stories they read.
After students meticulously categorize each book in our classroom, tally, and then graph the data, we have meaningful, age-appropriate conversations about the reasons for the discrepancy in representation and the dangers of a single story. I am amazed every year by the profound contributions our students share. Even our youngest children demonstrate their capacity to think critically about the messages they are receiving from the world around them and their ideas for contradicting dominant narratives.
In order to extend this anti-bias work into the home, I would encourage each of you to take some time with your children to survey and analyze your own children’s book collections. You can click the image below to download the table we use to tally the books in our classrooms. We typically then graph the results using Microsoft Excel by turning the data into a pie chart, but you can also make a bar graph using graph paper depending on the amount of books in your home. After graphing, be sure to follow up by discussing the results with your child and making a family action plan you can all follow to address any large representation gaps you may find in your collections.