As a professional educator, addressing possible bias in future courses I teach will begin with my personal humility. My hope is to create a classroom culture where all students feel free to express who they are in a respectful way without fear. This requires reciprocal respect, honesty, and openness from both students and teachers. To promote this type of environment and address my own possible biases, I will need to be reflective, humble, open to criticism, and able to admit shortcomings, oversights and mistakes I make while teaching or interacting with students. As Professor Sink suggested, not only does this make me more accessible and relatable as a human being, but also creates a safe space where my students are able to make mistakes as well as take responsibility for them. This type of attitude is so important in helping students develop cultural competency and respect for all people.
Stuart Biegel’s article, “The Right to Be Out: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in America’s Public Schools” was really valuable in providing strategies for improving the sense of community within the school and classroom. Reflecting on the influence of an educator’s attitude on students, Biegel quotes Rick Lipkin: “Given our socially reactive brains, we must ‘be wise,’ and be aware of the ways that our moods influence the biology of each life we touch” (Biegel, 2010, p. 104). With that quote in mind, bias may mean favoring or disfavoring particular students, which is unacceptable. As Martha Bigelow states in her article, “Somali Adolescents’ Negotiation of Religious and Racial Bias In and Out of School,” “schools are often places that reproduce larger societal systems of discrimination” but I would abhor this to be the case in my future classroom (Bigelow, p. 33). Our implicit and explicit attitudes and behaviors and the content we teach has the potential to be profoundly positive or debilitating to individuals, especially to students who are already vulnerable or marginalized.
As educators, we must set the tone by not only addressing the needs of all of our students, but also by displaying “open and explicit respect” for every individual in our classrooms (Biegel, p. 104). Every student is unique and will bring with them a host of biases, thoughts and attitudes about any given aspect of another student’s cultural identity, religious identity, or gender identity; but without respect, collaborative, constructive, discussion-based learning will not take place and even more so, individuals or groups of students may feel further isolated and unheard. Without an unbiased classroom culture centered on respect, students will miss out on opportunities to teach and learn from one another and what a shame that would be.
Providing students with access to multiple perspectives within the curriculum is an important part of avoiding bias in the classroom. I reviewed an English text, England in Literature and found it to be a valuable text for use in my future British Literature sections of an English curriculum. In accordance with the title, this resource provides literature from Medieval Age to the twentieth century. As most would expect, the majority of authors and perspectives represented are male, although there are images of both men and women throughout the textbook. And while women are underrepresented for many reasons, different depending on time period and context, studying the roles of men and women as they relate to different texts would be as important part of their understanding. While many of the classics provided in this text are written by men, it may prove valuable to analyze lesser known works written by females and to discuss why they may be less famous. Also in hopes of eliminating bias, it would be useful to provide opportunities for students to analyze how a work is a commentary or criticism of social norms and gender roles.
Other than a small section on Celtic literature from Ireland and Whales, as the title suggests, most of the authors represented are English—white, Anglo-Saxon, Catholic-Christian Englishmen. So unless I was teaching a course solely focused on British Literature, other materials would be necessary to provide students with works written by authors of other countries, cultures, and religions. However, this resource does provide valuable variety in literary genres from epics to poetry, and short stories to plays. So while this text is hardly a multicultural masterpiece, it serves as a valuable collection of British texts from which to teach a section on British literature or as supplement to a more comprehensive curriculum.
Biegel, S. (2010). The right to be out: Sexual orientation and gender identity in america’s public schools. Chicago, IL: University of Minnesota Press.
Bigelow, M. (2008). Somali adolescents’ negotiation of religious and racial bias in and out of school. Theory Into Practice, 47, 27. 33.
Pfordresher, J., Veidemanis, G., McDonnell, H. (1989) England in Literature. Scott, Foresman (Ed.) Glenview, IL.