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Addressing bias early
Child development program implements anti-bias education at local elementary schools
December 13, 2022
On Unity Day, Duveneck Elementary School students flocked around identity pin booths, listened to unity story read-alouds, wrote kindness notes, and engaged in other anti-bullying activities. Hilary McDaniel’s child development students helped host this event as part of the child development pathway’s broader anti-bias curriculum.
McDaniel uses the National Association for Education of Young Children framework to shape her curriculum. NAEYC, a nonprofit organization of 60,000 early childhood educators, defines anti-bias education as “support[ing] children’s development of a confident sense of identity without needing to feel superior to others.”
McDaniel’s students both learn child development and apply that learning to their teacher-assistant positions at Duveneck.
“This [framework] really is geared for preschool students,” McDaniel said. “But I haven’t found something that’s really of the same caliber for elementary. And I do feel like maybe a lot of these elementary school students didn’t get this in their preschool.”
McDaniel said that anti-bias education is important because the human brain naturally forms biases, and schools must do their best to counteract that. Right now, a wave of legislation is being passed across the nation against anti-bias, anti-racist, and LGBTQ+ education.
“If you’re not explicit with them, then it can lead to stereotyping and prejudice and discrimination,” McDaniel said. “And so it’s really a whole lot better if we just start early and don’t make it so taboo.”
Pacific Standard, an online magazine focused on climate change and justice reporting, writes that bias impacts children very young. “Several studies have found hatred of outsiders kicks in around age six, while others report it can be traced all the way back to infancy,” it writes, citing studies published in the National Library of Medicine.
If you’re not explicit with them, then it can lead to stereotyping and prejudice and discrimination … It’s really a whole lot better if we just start early and don’t make it so taboo.”
— Child development teacher Hilary McDaniel
Former Palo Alto Unified School Board candidate and self-proclaimed parental rights advocate Ingrid Campos has a different perspective on the issue.
Campos has two children in the PAUSD system. She said her children did not know what racism was until they were in school.
“I’m not sure what the purpose of teaching this kind of specific education, focusing on this specific topic, is really doing,” Campos said. “Everyone is assuming that there is racism and bias. … They’re innocent children, they don’t know about it yet.”
We’re going down the wrong road, to focus on the haters, the one in 100 haters out there, and then put that into a lesson plan and say, this is how the world is.”
— School board candidate Ingrid Campos
Campos said that she thinks some anti-racist and anti-bias education focuses too much on hate.
“We’re going down the wrong road, to focus on the haters, the one in 100 haters out there, and then put that into a lesson plan and say, this is how the world is,” Campos said. “I think there is a problem with that.”
Campos advocates another way of teaching justice.
“The foundation that was set for me was love your neighbor, love the people you’re with,” Campos said. “We never ever focused on skin color. Or whatever potential gender issues, we focused on being the best human being that we could possibly be based on the foundation of what we are.”
In terms of the justice and diversity components, McDaniel said that childrens’ brains are naturally attuned to concepts of “right” and “wrong,” so teaching them the concept of justice comes easily. Justice is one of the four tenets of McDaniel’s anti-bias framework.
“They [elementary school children] actually are very capable of having deep conversations about what is fair,” McDaniel said. “There are different books that talk about the concepts of equity versus equality and you’d be surprised how early on they can actually understand.”
McDaniel also promotes diversity in the classroom. She does an activity with her child development students where they analyze children’s books from before and after 2010 to examine the differences in representation between the two. Students counted the number of white children, children of color, and animals. The students found that there was more representation of animals in children’s books than people of color, pre-2010.
Anthro Magazine also spoke with child development students to hear their thoughts.
Senior and child development student Ryan Hudacek said that anti-bias education gives children confidence in their identity.
“Anti-bias education is important because it teaches children to have self confidence, use accurate language for diversity, recognize unfairness and understand that it hurts people, and learn to act against prejudice,” Hudacek said.
Harvey Vostrejs, another child development student and Paly senior, also advocates the importance of anti-bias education.
“I think it helps teach kids there are people other than you in the world, people that aren’t like you, and they are just as human and just as deserving of respect,” Vostrejs said.
Vostrejs said that anti-bias education should consist of both representation and overt education.
“Even if it’s hard to discuss and difficult to talk about, it’s something that does need to be addressed,” Vostrejs said. “If they know about it, they can take actions to prevent doing that themselves. And, you know, speak up when they see wrong being done.”
Hudacek said that she’s applied what she’s learned in her child development class to her work at Duveneck.
“I have implemented anti-bias education in my work at Duveneck through casual conversations with 4th graders at lunch,” Hudacek said. “I engage in conversations with them and ask them questions like why they think a specific stereotype is true.”
I think it helps teach kids there are people other than you in the world, people that aren’t like you, and they are just as human and just as deserving of respect.”
— Child development student Harvey Vostrejs
Though Vostrejs said they haven’t outright used any of their anti-bias training yet, they have been helping kids out in other ways that incorporate anti-bias.
“I’m working with a student [who] … is clearly neurodivergent,” Vostrejs said. “I’m doing my best to help him, you know, kind of navigate the world in ways that I wish someone would help me.”
Vostrejs said that one room for growth in the anti-bias education curriculum is the section on neurodivergence, specifically autism. Vostrejs said the textbook portrays autism as a curable condition, though the general expert consensus is that autism cannot be cured, according to Healthline.
“It [the textbook] probably hasn’t been updated in a long time,” Vostrejs said. “It’s a neuro type, it’s not a disease, there’s no cure for it doesn’t need to be cured … And a lot of the resources out there are completely inaccurate.”
Recently, there’s been an increase in laws against anti-bias education, nationwide. Especially with the midterm elections, the fate of anti-bias education is at stake.
“That’s such a silly thing to politicize,” McDaniel said. “For any side, we want children to appreciate the rich world they live in and talk about differences that they are aware of.”
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