Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Everybody Knows; Working with Our Commitment to Anti-Bias Curriculum

In the month of November, we recommitted ourselves to our anti-bias curriculum and teaching for liberation. Four years ago, our staff started a two year exploration into what it meant to create anti-bias curriculum in our classrooms. Teachers examined our biases and our privilege. We looked closely at systems and materials in our center and how they worked to support or counter the biases of our dominant culture. It was a deep, emotional collaboration and those of us here at that time will not soon forget what we learned. There are certain practices, norms and materials at our center that support this kind of teaching, but more important are teacher attitudes, habits and knowledge, so we worked on those in teacher provocations.

We have had some staff turnover since our first investigation of anti-bias curriculum. Many of our newer staff see the word “anti-bias” on our
website, see the poster of Louise Derman-Sparks’ Four Anti-Bias goals (letterpress printed by our atelierista, Katie Higgins-White!) that hangs in every room of our center, and they like the idea of teaching for justice.  None of this helps  these teachers know what to DO. This month we worked to see our work in the context of oppression so that we can make choices that lead to liberation. 

In many ways, teaching for liberation means questioning the things that we “know”.

An example; everybody “knows” it feels good to receive a complement. Complements are a way that many adults greet young children and build a relationship. When we begin to see how we broadcast our own biases, and learn how they affect the identities of children in our care, we want to counter some messages in our work with children. After we learn more we see how we are reinforcing stereotyped messages about gender. 

Suddenly, if we pay attention, we hear our complements differently.  We notice that we may respond to even the smallest babies with complements about their appearance when they think they are female babies and about their actions if we think they are male babies. (A most telling example of this occurs when an adult accidentally misunderstands a child's gender, and makes the "wrong" kind of complement.) We see that we are telling a story to a child about who they are when we complement them for being pretty, having a “cool dress” or being strong or funny. In fact, we’re colluding with most of the media that they’ll consume in telling them this story.

Our anti-bias practice requires teachers to notice these kinds of actions, to think about them, talk about them and try to build a new habit. Now we know that we can greet a child without a complement at all and wait to see what we’d like to say. We know that we are co-constructing children’s world with them, that we have tremendous power and that we can counter the dominant “story” in our culture that girls’ and women’s worth depends on our aesthetic value and that boys’ and men’s worth depends on what they do. We know that we must work to counter this stereotype and that it’s worth doing because it helps children grow up with a sense of worthiness connected to how they are in the world, what they think and what they do rather than how they look or behave.

At the end of the week, I’ll post about our provocations and describe how teachers defined anti-bias curriculum, we practice it at our center, and how we reacted to some stories of teachers and parents dealing with issues of difference and bias.

If you want to follow along, we listened to the firstchapter of an episode of This American Life about classroom discipline entitled "Is This Working?" And read “Holding Nyla” from the endlessly helpful text about doing education for liberation with young children, Rethinking Early Childhood Education, edited by Ann Pelo.

Where is your center on your anti-bias journey? What are you still working on?


  1. Hi to a fellow traveler on the A to Z Challenge!

  2. Hi Kendra. You're signed up for the A to Z Challenge. Are you participating?

  3. New follower here. I'm stopping by from the "A to Z" challenge, and I look forward to visiting again!