Children are aware of differences in color, language, gender, and physical ability at a very young age. Numerous research studies about the process of identity and attitude development conclude that children learn by observing the differences and similarities among people and by absorbing the spoken and unspoken messages about those differences. The biases and negative stereotypes about various aspects of human diversity prevalent in our society undercut all children's healthy development and ill-equip them to interact effectively with many people in the world. Consequently, anti-bias curriculum seeks to nurture the development of every child's fullest potential by actively addressing issues of diversity and equity in the classroom.
Specific curriculum goals of anti-bias curriculum are to foster each child's:
*construction of a knowledgeable, confident self-identity;
*comfortable, empathic interaction with people from diverse backgrounds;
*critical thinking about bias;
*ability to stand up for herself or himself, and for others, in the face of bias.
A belief in the value of human diversity and the fair treatment of all people is a prerequisite for doing anti-bias work. When teachers become committed to learning how to implement anti-bias curricula in their settings, they seem to go through four identifiable phases.
Another step in this process involves finding out what ideas children have about diversity by observing and interviewing them. Teachers can ask questions such as, What do you know about Indians? What makes you a girl or boy? What kind of work could this person do? (while showing a picture of a person in a wheelchair). Teachers can evaluate children's answers for signs of misinformation and discomfort. Responses alert the teacher to necessary directions for curriculum activities. The reading of research studies about children's development of identity and attitudes will also fill out the framework for curriculum decisions.
Evaluating the classroom environment and beginning to make necessary changes is the third component of phase one. Teachers must take a critical look at all the materials in the classroom environment, asking themselves what messages about diversity the children get from the materials. Do children see abundant images of people that reflect diverse abilities and current racial, ethnic, gender, and economic diversity? Do the images include depictions of important individuals who participated in struggles for justice? (See the first chapter in Derman-Sparks, 1992 for ideas.) After this evaluation, teachers can make a plan for buying and making needed new materials and eliminating inappropriate stereotypical materials.
Finally, teachers can begin to identify parents who might be interested in anti-bias curriculum, and invite them to participate in the process of changing the environment.
Teacher-initiated activities are another starting place for exploring anti-bias curriculum. For example, an activity about skin color, such as mixing paints to find children's individual skin colors, can be included in the frequently used curriculum theme of "I'm Me; I'm Special!"
In this second phase, it is crucial to begin involving all parents. Parents should be informed about how and why anti-bias activities are now part of the children's curriculum and invited to participate. Newsletters, parent meetings, and individual conferences are all useful. Plan a parent education session about how children develop identity and attitudes.
As teachers explore the process of doing anti-bias work with children and parents, they also continue their own personal growth on anti-bias issues. Once implementation is underway, ongoing support groups remain essential to share the successes, evaluate the mistakes, provide encouragement, and plan what to do next.
Teachers can consider ways to regularly integrate all anti-bias goals and issues into all aspects of the ongoing curriculum. Children's backgrounds and developmental needs should be taken into account in the planning of culturally inclusive curricula. Parents should regularly be involved in the planning and implementation of activities, and in group discussions about specific anti-bias issues. Teachers should continue to work on personal issues that arise in the course of teaching children and parents and continue to meet with a support group.
This ERIC/EECE Digest is based on Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools For Empowering Young Children, by Louise Derman-Sparks (1989), Washington, DC: NAEYC.
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