Stereotypes of spoiled and entitled Millennials are thrown around with such frequency I wonder about the validity of such claims. After all, from a Baby Boomer or Gen Xer perspective, Millennials do show characteristics that seem to support the stereotypes.
Isn’t that how stereotypes work their way into bias? We hear and see things that support what we think is true. Over time, we collect evidence to confirm our bias. In the end, perception does indeed become reality.
Interestingly, IBM released a study negating the top five stereotypes of Millennials. It turns out, much of what we hear about Millennials is exaggerated and misunderstood.
And yet, stereotypes are perpetuated further regardless of validity. Could this be true of other stereotypes and biases?
We all have bias. Some bias is explicit, meaning we recognize our beliefs at a conscious level. The challenge is implicit bias.
Implicit biases are just that — subtle, often subconscious stereotypes that guide our expectations and interactions with people.
“We all have them,” Gilliam says. “Implicit biases are a natural process by which we take information, and we judge people on the basis of generalizations regarding that information. We all do it.” ~Cory Turner, Bias Isn’t Just a Police Problem, It’s a Preschool Problem
How does bias play out in school? What is the impact?
Children are most vulnerable to the impact of bias in that they are unable to separate truth from fiction. When adults send messages, intentional or not, children believe them.
In our country, access to free and public education is intended to be the equalizer. From the outside, it seems that everyone shares the same path to success: go to school, work hard, and get a good job.
However, there is data that suggests the path is rockier for some. A recent Yale study reveals a connection between implicit teacher bias and less-than-desirable school experiences for children of color.
In this study, teachers watched videos of four children: a black boy and girl and a white boy and girl. Eye-scan technology measured the trajectory of their gaze as they watched the children looking for non-existent challenging behaviors.
“What we found was exactly what we expected based on the rates at which children are expelled from preschool programs,” Gilliam says. “Teachers looked more at the black children than the white children, and they looked specifically more at the African-American boy.”
“We see African-American students are nearly four times as likely to be suspended in K-12,” King said. “It’s more than three times as likely in pre-K, so those issues of disproportionate discipline begin early.”
Why do the results of this study matter? They matter because incorrect assumptions are made about others’ experiences. They matter because high suspension rates mean denial of learning opportunities, which lead to higher dropout rates.
It also matters because no child is immune from the impact of bias. Girls are not expected to be good at math. Boys are called on more in class. Behaviors are excusable for some and punishable for others. Teacher and parent bias impact a child’s ability to learn.
As the study shows, just like everyone else, most teachers are unaware of their own bias. It is important to note my purpose is not to blame teachers, as teachers are blamed enough. Rather, I seek to increase awareness of the realities of how bias impacts children’s learning opportunities.
Perhaps the primary reason we need to reckon with bias is that society is only as strong as its ability to provide equal opportunity to all children, regardless of differences.
I leave you with these thoughts from Teaching Your Children to Resist Bias: What Parents Can Do.
All of us have learned the negative values attached to gender, race, class, and handicapping conditions. And, to varying degrees, they affect our personal attitudes and behavior. At times, we hide such negative feelings from ourselves by denying the reality or significance of differences. We may hope to sidestep the impact of prejudice by saying, “People are all the same,” or teaching children it is impolite to notice or ask about differences.
However, avoidance doesn’t give children the information they need. By selectively ignoring children’s natural curiosity, we actually teach them that some differences are not acceptable. And by failing to attach positive value to certain specific differences, we leave children to absorb the biases of society. The more that we face our own prejudiced and discriminatory attitudes toward diversity and, where necessary, change them, the better prepared we will be to foster children’s growth.
How do you approach discussions with your children about differences? Please share your thoughts and suggestions regarding this important topic.