We’re all biased, even if we don’t think we are.
I was once working on a story about a woman business owner named Chris. As I read about Chris’s assertive moves to make her business a success, I was turned off by her brash opportunism. “This woman is really aggressive,” I thought.
Then, I saw a photo of Chris. Turns out Chris is a man—and for some reason, my indignant feelings about his aggression completely evaporated. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, a supposedly enlightened person, interpreting the behaviors of a successful businessman very differently from those of a successful businesswoman.
The Bias of Teachers
Unfortunately, teachers are biased too—one study shows how teachers’ choices and viewpoints often mirror the bias that permeates our society.
The excerpt below from an article on Ozy.com shows how race and ethnicity—not just capability or need—determine what students get chosen for gifted programs or special education:
“Any parent would feel a surge of pride when their child is referred to gifted education—and, understandably, concern over a referral to special education. But when it comes to a teacher’s referral of a student to educational programs, it’s not just learning abilities that play a role in the decision process. Recent research has found that race can affect who is referred to gifted programs and to special education.
Rachel Fish, an assistant professor of special education at NYU, assigned 70 third-grade teachers to read case studies of fictional male elementary school students and make recommendations. In each case study, certain characteristics of the student were altered, including race and ethnicity (conveyed by his name, such as “Carlos,” to indicate a Latino student), and whether he was learning English.
Also altered: factors hinting at his suitability as a candidate for gifted or special education—academic challenges, meant to suggest a learning disability; behavioral challenges, suggesting an emotional disorder; or academic strengths coupled with emotional sensitivity, a possible sign of giftedness. Teachers rated how likely they were to refer each student for gifted and special education testing. The finding?
It turns out white boys were more likely referred to special education when they showed academic challenges, and black and Latino boys were more likely referred when they showed behavioral challenges. Teachers were also more likely to refer white boys with high academic performance and emotional sensitivity to gifted education than their black and Latino counterparts.”
Read more at Ozy.com.