A recent study on implicit bias published by NC State University looks closely at how Wake County educators are influenced by racial bias in the classroom.
I recently read about a study that was conducted and published by NC State University. The purpose of the study was to determine if racial bias played a part in a teacher’s decision to punish their students. In Wake County, only 24% of students are Black, however, they accounted for 55% of out-of-school suspensions in 2015. On top of that, Black students accounted for 65% of total class periods missed due to out-of-school suspensions. White students made up only 19% of out-of-school suspensions and accounted for a mere 13% of class periods missed which would tend to suggest that not only are Black students punished more frequently but for longer durations.
The study also suggests that teachers frequently are worse at identifying the emotions of their Black students. When shown actors portraying different emotions such as anger and surprise, prospective teachers are 1.5 times more likely to accurately identify the emotions of white adults than of black adults. They were also three times more likely to identify that the expression on a Black person’s face was associated with anger when in reality the person was not displaying anger at all. In addition, when later shown videos of misbehaving boys of different races doing the exact same thing and being asked to grade the boys on a scale of one to five in terms of the severity of their conduct, the Black children were rated at 3.37 on average whereas White children, who displayed identical conduct, were assigned scores of 2.12 on average, which was far less severe.
The observations obtained through this study help us to understand a concept known as implicit bias. Implicit biases are those that each of us possess and internalize in our values and attitudes which we do not realize. All people, Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native American, all of us possess these implicit biases. The only way we can address these biases is if we understand them and compensate for them in our behavior.
It’s not surprising that you would see far more Black students being suspended for longer periods of time based upon identical conduct engaged in by other students in light of the findings in this study where subtle gestures, facial expressions, and conduct are interpreted differently based upon our worldview and values that we have internalized. We can all do better in addressing implicit biases, however, we must work to eradicate them from our schools, our court systems, and other institutions which should be serving all people equally.