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Equity in Education Part III: Methods for Teaching Students about Equity

Updated: May 25, 2021

By Didi Dunin, CEI Intern

This is the third part in the special series Equity in Education. Understanding the causes and consequences of inequity is critical for stimulating social change and a more compassionate world.

Once educators feel they have obtained sufficient knowledge of their own biases and the history and consequences of inequity, as discussed in Part 2, they should feel ready and confident to address these topics with their students in the classroom.

While there are many approaches to teaching students lessons about equity, most stem from one of two major ideologies – the “colorblind” or the “color insight” perspective.

Colorblindness vs. Color Insight

One inferior way of teaching students about race and equity that teachers should be wary of is the colorblind method. This approach teaches children that all human beings are equal no matter what they look like on the outside. Differences are taught to be ignored. While this might seem like a good approach to reduce racism and increase equity, research shows that this can actually lead to more implicit biases due to the inability to suppress what one truly sees (Magee, 2015).

An alternative, superior method is the “color insight” approach. This method addresses differences that do indeed exist, provides guidance about how to embrace these differences and teaches students the history and consequences of inequity (Armstrong & Wildman, 2008). With this approach, educators discuss topics such as slavery, oppression, and civil rights. Importantly, teachers should choose a range of materials that all students can relate to in order to help students feel connected and compassionate towards themselves and those who are different.

For example, teachers can provide a multitude of texts and stories from multiple perspectives. A good range of texts include:

Taking Others’ Perspective Increases Compassion

While many students might not understand the sufferings caused by racism, many do have their own experiences that can be used as a means for them to connect to the inequity felt by others, such as being LGBTQ, having a physical or mental illness, being overweight, or simply looking or feeling different.

When students are able to relate, they can connect these emotions to the oppressions felt by others which motivates them to help others and advocate for social justice. But teaching is not just about giving information through text and materials. It is also about creating compassion, independence and desire in students to be active learners and participants in social change. Consider engaging in project-based learning that will address inequity in your community.

Cultivating a Safe Environment – Teaching Moments

Cultivating a safe environment for open discussion, stimulating critical thinking, and embracing teachable moments can all help achieve these goals. For example, if a teacher overhears a student make a discriminatory comment, they should stop to explain how and why this is wrong, and then offer a positive equitable solution. Additionally, if a recent event were to happen in the news or community about inequity, teachers should ask students how they feel about it and what they would do to change or prevent it. Effectively addressing sensitive and controversial issues helps challenge misinformed views and perceptions among learners and builds an appreciation for others.

Some color insight methods go a step further by combining mindfulness-based practices to increase awareness of how inequity impacts us all (Magee, 2015). Research shows that these practices can reduce implicit biases and automatic responding (Lueke & Gibson, 2014). Specifically, listening to a short audiotape in which participants were made more aware of their sensations and thoughts in a nonjudgmental way caused them to show less implicit bias against Blacks and the elderly on the race and age Implicit Association Tests than individuals who listened to a 10-minute audiotape describing historical events and geographical landmarks. These results show that while it is important to continue to teach tolerance and acceptance of other people, automatic processes still exert tremendous influence on the evaluation and treatment of others. Thus, practicing mindfulness meditation may reduce these automatic processes, which would be another important step toward increasing equity and compassion.

Ultimately, even though inequity continues to pervade our modern society, the good news is that bias can be unlearned or reversed when people are exposed to diversity in a positive way. Adopting an approach which recognizes the differences of each individual, the “color insight” approach, provides undue benefits in fostering compassion, defeating biases, and motivating social justice (Case, 2013).

References Armstrong, M. J., & Wildman, S. M. (2008). Teaching Race/Teaching Whiteness: Transforming Colorblindness to Color Insight. Santa Clara Law Digital Commons. Case, K. A. (2013). Deconstructing privilege: Teaching and learning as allies in the classroom. New York: Routledge. Lueke, A., & Gibson, B. (2014). Mindfulness meditation reduces implicit age and race bias. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6(3), 284-291. Magee, R. (2015, May 14). How mindfulness can defeat racial bias. Greater Good Magazine, (3).

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