Developing an Anti-Bias Curriculum
Concerns about integral biases in formal school curriculum have been expressed from time to time by reform-minded educators who seek to eliminate all kinds of prejudice in American schools. However, these concerns were brought to the forefront in the late 1980’s and 1990’s with certain publications on this topic by L. Derman-Sparks and B. Biles, who proposed that an anti-bias curriculum be implemented, and certain practical strategies be used for dealing with all oppressive systems such as racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia.
Proponents of an anti-bias curriculum believe it can be a powerful tool in promoting an understanding of social problems arising from discrimination. Social oppression and a neglect of social justice, they believe, can be mistakenly seen as acceptable when students of all levels are exposed to a curriculum that is too narrow. Stereotyped role models and certain types of instruction can be a cause of alienation among minorities. Curriculum planners need to be aware of the different needs and values of students from minority backgrounds, and provision for these students needs to be structured into the formal school curriculum.
Curriculum content is an obvious starting point. Successful historical figures, authors, and playwrights come from all racial backgrounds, and representation of both sexes is easily found. Some great literacy artists, such as Oscar Wilde and others, were of an alternate sexual orientation and an anti-bias curriculum will treat their work with equal respect. It will also make use of a variety of inclusive material, open and tolerant instruction, and an evaluation system that accepts and encourages diversity.
Many educators in the past have felt that bias was adequately addressed when the formal curriculum was reassessed and modified in terms of content, materials, and open instruction. Unfortunately, they gave no thought to the hidden curriculum which has been a frequent source of unintentional discrimination and prejudice.
The values and cultural norms of certain ethnic backgrounds are significantly different from traditional American values, and this has not always been well understood in many of our schools. The problem has been most evident in terms of dress requirements, food served in school cafeterias, and mandatory participation in certain physical education programs. Many students have found it difficult to comply, and in some cases, no accommodation was made for their different needs. An anti-biased curriculum would seriously examine these problems and seek viable solutions.
Holidays and days of religious celebration are well marked in western countries with Christian based traditions. It is important to understand that students from different non-Christian backgrounds may not celebrate these traditions, but may have important special days of their own. Such days need to be recognized, and though it may be difficult for education jurisdictions to grant holidays outside of the normal calendar, religious days can still be marked and celebrated some way within a school setting.
Education is the most powerful and the most effective agent of socialization within any civilized country. Its aim is to promote social justice for all and to ensure that all citizens, regardless of background, are treated with acceptance, respect, and tolerance. An anti-bias curriculum, then, should be seen as an essential requirement of a successful system.