Aware Is Halfway There: Identifying and Combating Implicit Biases in Early Childhood Education

Oct 3, 2019

Early childhood educators from across the state met in East Peoria Thursday to learn more about implicit biases - and how they can address them. 

Dr. Rosemarie Allen was the keynote speaker at the Sharing a Vision Conference, hosted for more than 800 educators at the Embassy Suites by the Illinois Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exception Children, in conjunction with the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Allen is the president and CEO for the Institute for Racial Equity and Excellence and an associate professor of education at Metropolitan State University in Denver.

She said disproportionately harsh punishments on children of color not only impact those children, but also the other kids that observe the behavior and internalize the notion that they're worse behaved. That ultimately perpetuates a cycle of passing on internal, unconscious biases from generation to generation. 

Allen said the first step is to be aware of your own biases.

“Notice when you’re responding to something. Notice who you’re responding to. And then, wonder why," Allen said.  

She used the example of some who may cross the street to avoid passing a group of Hispanic men. She said people should call themselves out during those moments. 

“Aware is halfway there. We have to find a way to bring it to our consciousness. So one of the things I tell people to do is slow down. Because implicit bias is bound to show up in times of fear and stress," she said. 

For teacher, she said it can help to view kids as future doctors or lawyers to neutralize the bias once its identified. Allen said children who are suspended at the preschool level are 10 times more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system.

Allen helped implement "Culturally Responsive Community Based Licensing" in Colorado to monitor and license early childhood facilities. She said the program helps teachers identify their own biases and deal with behavioral issues using alternative strategies that promote social-emotional development. 

Illinois adopted a law last year barring preschool expulsions in all but a few cases.