The Foundations of Bias

The foundations of bias and the types we need to avoid

Psychologists believe that the human mind is configured to create categories by which we group people, their actions and our responses to these actions and our responses to these actions. These categories create a haven for stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.

Gibbs (1994) notes six types of bias which we need to avoid as practitioners. They are linguistic, stereotyping, exclusion, unreality, selectivity, and isolation: These will be discussed in a bit more detail.

Linguistic bias -refers to using any language that is dehumanizing or denies the existence of a certain group. When we teach and fail to acknowledge the contributions of others to what is being covered in our lesson and curriculum it is considered demeaning. Often, members of different ethnic groups come into our learning environments with names that we cannot pronounce or have trouble with. When students laugh or deliberately mispronounce someone’s name from another country or different cultural group, this is promoting bias. It is important to note that some students from diverse backgrounds will not respond in class because they are afraid to deal with ridicule because of their lack of mastery of the English language. In a global society, this should not happen.

Stereotyping– is an embellished belief, image, or distorted truth about a person or group. Typically this generalization allows for little or no individual differences or social variation. Stereotypes are based on images in mass media, or ideas passed on by parents, peers, and other members of society. Stereotypes can be positive or negative. A negative stereotype of Native Americans is that they live on reservations, wear headwear and feathers and have a spiritual nature which connects them exclusively with the earth. A positive stereotype of Asian Americans is that they push their students to excel academically, but even this is a problematic stereotype because it assumes that every Asian student does well in the classroom, and they do not.

Exclusion– describes the lack of representation by a group, or a removal of a group from the larger population. When we call on certain students for answers, or only focus on our more coordinated students in our classes, we are practicing exclusion. Students who have difficulty in class are often placed into other environments too prematurely when what is needed is a bit of creativity in instruction by the practitioner and encouragement.

Unreality– refers to the misinformation about a group, event, or contribution. Typically this is witnessed through expectations we have of students before we have the opportunity to teach. This is seen in regards to urban learners, who are portrayed as minority, poor and unruly with a lack of structure and support at home. Culturally and linguistically diverse learners are usually seen as Spanish-speaking. Students with a physical disability are seen as having an affliction which will keep them from performing in class.

Selectivity –describes the single interpretation of an issue, situation, or conditions. In countering this bias, we need to work to help learners see issues from more than one perspective. As teachers, we need to also work to be sure that opinions given to us by our learners are listened to and taken under consideration. The reasons why a Muslim child will not swim with girls may have nothing to do with the fact that the student is afraid of water, but it may have something to do with the fact that modesty in Islamic culture is regarded as a practice.

Isolation– is the final type of bias we should avoid as practitioners, involving the separation of groups. Rapport is difficult to build in a classroom, but it must be done so that students can have a better opportunity to know one another and work together to improve learning. In a global society, isolation can be detrimental to an individual, affecting their ability to communicate and function. As noted by Johnson, Johnson and Holubec (1987) and Tatum (2002), students will never interact together in the classroom, if they cannot interact in our classes.

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