What I learned from Fallbrook High School's unconscious bias teaching
Last updated 8/12/2021 at 6:25pm
With all the concern over critical theory possibly being taught in our local high school, I requested the curriculum and teaching aids used by FUHSD relating to unconscious bias, critical race theory and other related topics. I spent hours going through it and I appreciate the high school providing it to me in a timely manner.
From what I was given, and from what I could see, there was a lot that was helpful to teach young people. We want to teach them to be thoughtful and kind, no matter who they are talking to. Under the microaggressions teaching, I appreciated much of the messaging against “The everyday slights, indignities, put-downs and insults that people of color, women, LGBTQ populations and other marginalized people experience in their day to day interactions.”
It went on to explain in one lesson that, “Microaggressions can appear to be compliments but often contain a ‘metacommunication’ or hidden insult to the target group. Microaggressions are often outside the level of conscious awareness of the people who say them, which means they can be unintentional. Microaggressions may be communicated verbally and/or nonverbally.”
There was also messaging on how to be an “ally.” That was good except I think the ancillary messaging that tells (white and straight) students to be quiet goes too far.
Here’s what I would change or add to the lessons.
There was a series of short videos displaying hurtful messaging which were good examples of microaggressions. I found the video messaging to be insightful and helpful. The critique or problem with the videos that I would offer is that it showed mostly white students displaying the microaggressions, hurtful, racial, or discriminatory comments against students identifying as other races and there were no examples of hurtful comments or microaggressions against white students. This is, in itself, a form of discrimination and unconscious bias against white students. While people are concerned about Critical Race Theory, this is a subtle example of it. I believe the proponents of Critical Race Theory would say that it is by design because white people are the “oppressors.”
So what’s the answer? Maybe the discussion just doesn’t go far enough. Again, while we want to teach students to not be racist or discriminatory against people of color, gay or those with mental or physical challenges, we also don’t want to marginalize, demonize or discriminate against white or white-adjacent (sometimes Asian and Jewish people are defined as “White adjacent” and privileged) people.
We do want to teach students to be “allies” of other people, no matter their race, gender or station in life, but that includes white students.
It’s true and it’s important to be mindful and aware of our own biases and “privilege,” whatever they may be. As I’ve written before, I believe a description and teaching of privilege and bias based solely on race is very shallow and destructive. While privilege is most often described as “white privilege” and pits people of different races against each other and creates “oppressors” and “the oppressed,” there are other biases and privileges that are very powerful.
While we don’t want to minimize someone’s personal experience, there’s the bias and privilege from being born in this country with the rule of law (for example - not in a communist or third-world country), and the privilege of being born in the 20th or 21st century. Think of the privilege and advantages those give someone. I don’t think most students or adults have any idea of the power of those “privileges,” no matter what race they are.
There’s privilege in education and being raised in a two parent family. There’s bias and privilege that comes from being thin, talented or beautiful (as defined by present culture). Think about the power, bias and privilege people of all races experience who are educated, beautiful and have the advantage of a two-parent upbringing. There are experiences in their lives, doors that will open, romance, and places they can go just based on beauty that someone who is not considered outwardly beautiful by our culture, may never experience in the same way.
What about the microaggressions of thin people who are always talking to fat people about diets?
There is the bias and privilege of youth, or of old age. There is the privilege of wealth and the privilege of health. All of those are powerful privileges with their own biases. Maybe they should be included as well.
With most of those “privileges,” race may be less influential in this present time in history if you also have one or several of those situations going for you, or against you.
I remember when I was in high school there were other biases and microagressions, like if you were an athlete or a “jock,” it would be common to be thought of as a thug, or “stupid.” If you were smart or in band, you were a “geek” and if you were a cheerleader, you were a “slut.” If you smoked in the quad, you were a “bad boy.” All of that was in addition to the slurs, aggressions and microaggressions everyone endured for being Black, Mexican, Italian, Spanish, Irish, Polish, Jewish, etc. It was all hurtful.
In conclusion, I think it’s not wrong or bad to help faculty and students be aware of their biases and to coach them to be careful and kind in their speech and not commit microaggressions against Asians or people of color. I just wish they wouldn’t primarily base unconscious bias and microaggressions on race because bias, privilege, aggressions and microaggressions in our culture are complex and varied. To base microaggressions primarily on race, gender and sexual orientation doesn’t go far enough and white students shouldn’t be demonized or made to look like the primary aggressors in the training videos.