Unconscious Bias When Good Intentions Are Not Enough

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UnconsciousBias: When Good Intentions Are Not Enough


Thearticle by Sarah Fiarman focuses on how deep-rooted biases hindergood intentions in the education system. According to the author,educators mayunconsciously selectively notice misbehavior of just one subset ofstudents. Although the teacher may care about equity and racism, theymay still read the situation inaccurately and show bias (Fiarman,2016).Psychologist Beverly Daniel Tatum claims that every person harborsunconscious biases, and people of all backgrounds show unconsciouspreferences based on aspects of identity such as gender, sexualorientation, and race. Although most people claim that they have nopreference, they tend to favor the group they belong (Fiarman,2016). Additionally, people in stigmatized groups show preferences towardsthe culturally valued group. There is the need to take concrete stepsto increase the likelihood that teachers make rational considerationsrather than unconscious favoritism.

Somepeople are not aware of their biases and the waytheyinfluence their behavior. For instance, people of color whoexperience the consequences of racism still exist,but they hide the open behaviors. However, many white people maystruggle to recognize that they are biased (Fiarman,2016).Research conductedby Stanford University showed that unconscious bias plays in thedisproportionate punishment of black students as compared to theirwhite counterparts. The educator’s perceptions of the racialidentity of students influenced how they decided to respond tobehavior (Fiarman,2016).Also, other decisions affect student learning daily. The choicesinclude the feedback students receive about their work, who getspraise or rejection, and how they communicate with families.

Accordingto the article, the first step in combating the bias is increasingawareness by eliminating the stigma around it. School leaders shouldhelp their staffs to understand that unconscious bias is neitherdeliberate nor does it reflect our goals and intentions. Theprincipal should create the conditions for people to monitor theirbehavior and call one another on it without stigma (Fiarman,2016).Also, teachers need to trust each other to give honest feedbackthrough developing and agreeing on norms. Naming potential biasshould not feel like a personal attack. Accordingto Fiarman(2016),when someone calls us on our thinking, we must practice and modelnon-defensiveness. When a white educator names bias, it tends toreassure black parents because it indicates that the person may beaware of their prejudice hence building a trusting relationship.

Markedly,the article establishes that the educators need to anticipate biassituations and create systems to reduce it. For instance, one coulduse the “blind” approach to select students, achievable byputting the learner’s names in a jar and randomly choose them.Another method that educators can use is ensuring that before theyredirect a black student, they should scan to see if white studentswere doing the same behavior.

Fiarmangoes on to explain that building empathy is another way to counteractunconscious bias. Educators should replace negative associations withpositive ones to counter the effect of repeated exposure to a message(Fiarman,2016).Teachers who learn of specific similarities that they share withindividuals in their class have more positive relationships with allstudents, regardless of their races. Finally, educators need to holdthemselves accountable through collecting data about their actionsconcerning different activities in school. Gathering informationmakes patterns of unconscious favoritism visible (Fiarman,2016).Consequently, people can quickly correct where they went wrong.

Tosummarize, Fiarman claims that bias may involuntarily affect howeducators perform activities in school. There is need to recognizethat these unwanted deep-rooted beliefs exist and limit theirinfluence on people (Fiarman,2016).Additionally, naming bias in others increases awareness. Anticipatingfavoritism allows teachers to proactively design approaches that helpthem to be fair to every student. The article states that foreducators to be effective with all students, they need to holdthemselves accountable. Although people may think that they havecurbed their bias, office discipline records may be different (Ross,2014). The counteracting of prejudice improves the understanding ofconcepts, performance of the school, and the relationship betweenteachers and students.

Otherstudies second the article’s argument. Certain individualsformulate social stereotypes of people from outside their consciousawareness. The biases stem from one’s tendency to organize socialand identity groups by categorizing them (Ross, 2014. Additionally,other researchers show that other that racism, other preferences maybe based on gender, weight, and religion. In Indiana, educatorssuspend black students four times more than their white peersespecially in situations that require a judgment call. However,research shows that bias can be a two-way street. For instance, awhite teacher teaching a group of predominantly black or Latinostudents may experience preferences (Ross, 2014). If these pupilshear stereotypes and beliefs that the whites are the enemy, they maynot have a good relationship with the educator. A factor thatinfluences bias is language. For instance, the bridge between Ebonicsand standard English makes people prejudge others. The teachers’behaviors affect students’ lives, discipline, and promotion.Conquering implicit bias is important in ensuring fairness inschools.


Fiarman,S. (2016). Unconscious Bias: When Good Intentions arenotEnough. EducationalLeadership,74(3),10-15.

Ross,H. J. (2014).&nbspEverydayBias: Identifyingand Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives.Lanham: Rowman &amp Littlefield Publishers.