Teaching Anti-Bias Values in Education: Community Engagement

As we approach MLK Day in the U.S., in honor of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should ensure that his dream lives on. His work and his core message urged us all to join as ‘brothers and sisters’ connected by the shared belief in anti-bias values. We have to make a true commitment to demonstrate, model and infuse anti-bias values into the educational curriculum. Students can demonstrate deeper understandings of tolerance, equality,  collaboration, and community, and ‘own’ their power to become change agents and change makers in society- starting where they are.


A core component of anti-bias education is learning to take action against exclusion, prejudice and discrimination; it can be especially powerful for students to do this in their own schools and local communities.

Consider the following tips for ensuring that community engagement efforts reflect anti-bias values:

  • Create a community action project that addresses real needs. Community organizations can help articulate these needs and suggest ways to maximize students’ time and talents.
  • Draw on students’ knowledge of and personal connection to the issues involved. The more specific the project, the better.
  • Include a strong research component that ensures students’ efforts to increase their knowledge and understanding are not simply based on what they already know.
  • Incorporate reflection about student attitudes to ensure the project doesn’t reinforce assumptions or stereotypes about specific people or communities.
  • Provide writing prompts to help students consider personal changes they can make to challenge bias, exclusion and injustice.
  • Study the broader social context surrounding the community problem. Intervene if students “blame the victim” for challenges beyond individual control.
  • Use texts to spark student reflection about community challenges and issues.
  • Work “with,” not “for,” individuals or groups the class wants to support.

Expecting students to engage directly with community issues and problems supports two  anti-bias domains: Justice and Action.

Personal Action Plan
After reading about prejudice or discrimination, the Personal Action Plan assignment asks students to reflect on these issues in their own surroundings and explore how they might help make their school and community more welcoming, inclusive and equitable. The Personal Action Plan can focus on one particular topic (e.g., name-calling and bullying, peer culture, diversity of gender expression or LGBT issues), or it can be more general. Plans should focus on acts of personal change, and students should share their plans with classmates to build accountability for implementation.

“Fighting for Fairness” Letters
The Fairness Letter Project asks students to identify an instance of unfairness in their school or community, research the issue and write an advocacy letter to a person or organization with power to change the situation. In addition to developing issue-based analysis and critical writing skills, this project requires students to evaluate how change happens and where they can best channel their efforts for maximum impact.

Student-Designed Community Projects
Any social justice issue could inspire an individual or group project designed to support local people. Possible projects include designing a public service announcement, conducting a survey or opinion poll, providing direct service through a community agency, creating a workshop or event or hosting a justice-themed art show.

Ongoing Partnerships with Community Organizations
Semester- or year-long community partnerships offer students a chance to establish continuity and deeper connections with particular issues, populations or projects. A partnership spanning multiple years gives each class a chance to build on previous classes’ work, multiplying the impact.

We can teach the values that enable students to engage in learning with specific projects that support the vitality of their community, build social capital and take ownership of their surroundings. Added components of service projects that reflect anti-bias values can and should incorporate and involve the participation of families, as well. If we don’t teach students to respect their neighborhoods, and feel that they possess power to bring about positive changes, then it becomes less likely that they will learn to respect the environments and neighborhood communities in which you or I reside. We can effectively alter mindsets and promote community-minded civic engagement among youth. Share your ideas and service projects with the world!

Leave comments, please, in support of change! Happy MLK Day!





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