Monday, 21 October 2019

Consideration to the hidden bias in learning material

With the recent release of “My Hair” by Hannah Lee, I have got to thinking about how I can include inclusive and multicultural material in the classroom so that all children really can flourish. The reason I say this is because studies based on real life classroom and academic observation show that children of Ethnic Minority, who are exposed to learning materials and environments that resemble and appreciate multicultural dynamics, do better academically due to holistic well-being being provided for (Wang & Eccles, 2013). Additionally, when material is closer to that of the student’s culture, they are more easily able to internalise the learning and build stronger learning structures from it (Vygotsky, 1978). At the end of this blog I will provide some of the material do and don’ts.

I think it is important to consider material that we should eradicate from the classroom as well as the material we need to include. There is unconscious bias in a majority white teaching profession in the fact that they forget to be inclusive of cultural material in the learning environment for students of Ethnic Minority, there is also hidden racism in children’s material that teachers are unaware of, and there can be a lack of sensitivity to the identity psychology that can occur in a non-representative environment. Recently I came across a version of Hansel and Gretel retold and illustrated by Jane Ray. Here are some photos:

To the unaware person this is simply a lovely story about two children who get lost and find their way back home. Perhaps even slightly intertwined with a Christian message of hope and homecoming. Some versions are simply that and nothing else. However, this version (which has won childrens book awards and is widely used for children), has hidden discrimination. The witch and her house are depicted to symbolise that of all religions other  than Christianity through the following:

  1. Henna on the witch’s hand
  2. Oriental-Asian Costume makeup on the witch’s face
  3. Native American aspects in the Head-dress
  4. Egyptian all seeing eye on the shoes
  5. Aborigine style Lizard next to the boys cage and across the pages
  6. Gingerbread men stylised to show hints of the Mexican day of the dead aspects

 It is implying that all other religions are evil and after the flesh and blood of our children, and that Christianity is the only one good religion and that every child should be brought to Christianity to be a good child. It is rather worrying that such a book is so cleverly demonising all other religions, and yet is a widely used children’s books as teachers are unaware. However due to my reading and experiences of being diligent in providing an inclusive and multicultural classroom It is something I am inclined to look for. Once I notice this, I pointed it out to a teacher trainer who took this on board and amended future training. They informed other students in my cohort to look for such symbolising and being critical of the material we put into a child’s learning environment.

Note: I contacted the author to try and establish if this was intentional racism, or if it was done to create discussion and be critical about Christian literature and am yet to hear back.

This signals that many people simply aren’t aware of their own ignorance and unconscious bias and that once informed they are willing to address this. It is why I write this blog post, so that other teachers may become more aware of the issue.
Additionally, as a consciously aware white trainee teacher, I am good at bringing multicultural material and aspects into the classroom, and being alert for inappropriate material, but am not so confident in delivering a multicultural themed lesson. This to me suggests that us white teachers should be more united and consistent in demanding that this becomes a national movement where we request the development of a multicultural consideration module to be trained to all teachers and trainees. It should not just teach awareness, but how to practically change our practice for teaching.
With that in mind, here are some do’s and don’ts:

DO research multicultural books, posters and material that can be placed around the classroom for BAME students to relate and aspire to.
DO ask BAME students what their likes and dislikes are (BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT JUST INTO AND GOOD AT SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT).
DO include BAME material for actual lessons such as whole class reading and guided reading (as it is beneficial to all students regardless of culture, to be exposed and interact with different cultures in today’s social media and globally mobile world).
DO check all material for hidden racial/discriminatory symbolism
DO provide multicultural lessons with a sensitivity (slavery, WW2 etc) where it is not made light of or trying to be “fun”. No one should every think these topics were a “good laugh”.
DO read “Why I am no longer talking to white people about race” by Renni Eddo Lodge to understand structural racism and how it effects people from young to old with references to teaching and education also.

DON’T assume that just because you have put one or two books in the library with a black person on the cover that your classroom now caters to BAME students effectively
DON’T be scared to reflect on your own white privilege and unconscious bias in order to be the best possible teacher you can be for ALL children
DON’T be scared to consult with members of the BAME communities to ask how they would like BAME students and education to be catered to.
DON’T ignore that multicultural education and considerations are VITAL
DON’T be a teacher if you have racist tendencies, find another job.
DON’T believe that racism no longer exists in Britain. It absolutely does whether direct or indirect, conscious or unconscious. It exists both on individual and structural levels of society. We must accept this in order to improve and change it.

Please keep an eye out for my next guest post on this blog for a list of multicultural materials for the classroom, and other handy tips and resources.

By @MissC91 on twitter

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wang, M.-T., & Eccles, J. S. (2013). School context, achievement motivation, and academic engagement: A longitudinal study of school engagement using a multidimensional perspective. Learning and Instruction, 28, 12-23.

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