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All members of U.S. society are expected to be responsible citizens. A pluralistic and free society is sustained when all people are treated with respect, dignity, equality and fairness regardless of differences. School communities have always had as part of their educational mission a mandate to create learning opportunities in which the development of responsible citizenship is a primary goal.

Changing demographics, economic disparity and societal tensions foster climates of distrust and fear among people who lack the knowledge and skills to be successful in a pluralistic society. The potential for conflict, discrimination and scapegoating is high when prejudice and stereotypes go unchallenged or are ignored. Biased behavior is learned behavior. Left unexamined, biased attitudes can lead to biased behaviors, which have the potential to escalate into violent acts of hate.

Biased behavior can be subtle or overt. In schools, name-calling and acts of social exclusion are the most common examples of discriminatory behavior and prejudicial thinking. Although children are not born prejudiced, by preschool they have already acquired stereotypes or negative attitudes toward those they perceive as "others" (Derman-Sparks, 1989). In an attempt to minimize the development of prejudice, well-meaning adults often teach children to ignore differences and focus only on similarities. Just as common experiences are part of the "glue" that holds communities together, understanding and respecting differences are essential for successful multicultural societies.

Anti-bias education incorporates the philosophy of multicultural education while expanding to include other forms of bias, stereotypes and misinformation. Anti-bias education not only addresses race and ethnicity but also includes gender, language, religious diversity, sexual orientation, physical and mental abilities and economic class. Anti-bias education takes an active, problem solving approach that is integrated into all aspects of an existing curriculum and a school’s environment. An anti-bias curriculum promotes an understanding of social problems and provides students with strategies for improving social conditions.

Educators who seek to challenge stereotypes and biases can provide students with factual, concrete information and positive interpersonal experiences. Teachers can also learn how to effectively address biased behavior when it occurs. A comprehensive program of staff development, curricular materials and school assessment tools can help teachers, students, parents and other community members create and sustain a cohesive community where positive and equitable relationships are established across cultural barriers.


References:

Batiste, D. (1998). A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute Anti-Bias Study Guide. New York, NY: Anti-Defamation League.

Derman-Sparks, L., & A.B.C. Task Force. (1989). Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Sleeter, C.E., & Grant, C.A. (1987). An Analysis of Multicultural Education in the United States. Harvard Educational Review, 57(4), 421-44.

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