Is “Implicit Bias” Just Another Excuse?

 

anthemIs ‘implicit bias’  REALLY present ‘ONLY’at a subconscious level or is it a cop-out…another excuse? Here is one opinion, baked by experience and little scientific research, but just as plausible as the critical examination of theoretical frameworks.  We speak of everyday biases, the not -so obvious or covert displays of prejudice, and we lend excuses to them by offering an escape to those who demonstrate an alignment with the politically incorrect ‘caricature’-ish attitudes regarding individuals who represent racial, ethnic, religious….diversity.

Implicit bias demonstrates stereotypic thinking, “immaculate perceptions”, derived from the lack of empathic awareness, cultural sensitivity, the absence of knowledge which correlates with a certain level of open-mindedness, critical reasoning and logical thought. It may feel comfortable, normal, regular, and even realistic to see others through these narrow, ethnocentric cultural lenses. It may feel right and evidence-based.

In reality, it can derive from fear and self-loathing; an insecurity or historical guilt which manifests as legitimate reasons to devalue  disrespect and deny access to resources, opportunities and rights to thrive in an ‘equal’ society. Thus, it makes it excusable, less embarrassing, and less racist to minimize its impact on the way we see the world or the way we see ourselves in relation to others in the world. It just feeds the ego, and we accept that.

It is evidence that we are afraid to ‘let the chips fall where they may”. That feels too random, the work is harder and it is more challenging. We don’t know whether we could cut it if the playing fields were made level. That is just fear and excuses to not work our hardest-to the best of our ability. Thus, we convince ourselves and others that we are better, more superior, deserving, privileged and entitled to win at all costs.

As a survivor of a marriage wrought with ‘intimate partner’ violence, psychological and physical abuses, I have come to believe that when someone constantly degrades you and makes you feel less confident about who you are-your value, your worth- it is because of the way that person feels about him or herself.  If I work feverishly to convince you that I am better, stronger, faster… than you, it is because I need to convince myself that I am at least equal to you and I desperately need recognition of my own value. It is not about you, but it’s about my insecurities, unmet needs, and any personal guilt is masked by overt aggression and cruelty.

Some will hear these put-downs and begin to believe and internalize the words, despite the inner voices which say otherwise. Eventually, we must face ourselves honestly AND others equally as honest, yet, some people never confront their demons. Better to arrive at that point out of desire to evolve and develop empathy than have it thrust upon us unprepared. When that happens, people get hurt.

We see this all too often with police-involved shootings. Implicit bias causes unintended, avoidable harm. When someone does get hurt, families don’t want to hear and won’t accept your excuses. The harm will be perceived avoidable-your fault, your ignorance, and no matter how well defended, deep inside, you know the truth.  It is your fault. Accept it, and learn from it, as a teachable moment. with the understanding that you must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.

In the matter of the elephant in the room, called racism, one would think that we have truly evolved and developed the strength, sense of humanity, fairness and the capacity to engage in a collective and respectful conversation in recognition of that divisive elephant. Not just empty talk, but talk followed by action. Rather, we avoid the inevitable, only to result in volatile, highly charged confrontations with one another, civil unrest and a revolution. The truth hurts, but in the presence of truth, directions can become clear, paths may converge as we all move peacefully, and respectfully in the same direction-forward.

Face the truths-our nation’s truths, our personal truths, and with clear consciences, we may engage in productive conversations framed by a reciprocal dialogue, active listening skills and a desire to broaden our cultural lens. We can thus begin to forge a new path into a brighter future in a democracy shaped by the vision of a collaborative called “We, The People”… united in mission… “in order to form a more perfect union….”!

No more excuses, implicit bias or immaculate perceptions. No more US vs. THEM! We cannot control the world. We can only control ourselves. So, control yourself! We cannot color the world. The world is naturally populated with a beautiful spectrum of hues, shades and colors, and people, too. We MUST appreciate and find awe in their beauty. We MUST not divide and conquer. We MUST conquer our fears…  to live and thrive in a diverse society. Together we stand or divided we fall! Enough falling, folks. We are heading towards global destruction. Name-calling, cultural, religious and gender insensitivity, represent classic ignorance. Implicit bias and blind prejudice should not characterize the way we create positive change!

Implicit, my as..! We have no more excuses in an information-driven society! The next generation of leaders will not respect their elders-us- until we show evidence of growth, strength and a sincere belief in our individual and collective capacity to pursue success by  our individual merits, on our honor, without rigging the system. They will know, even if they never admit it out loud, that we cheated our way to the top. We spread implicit bias around and weren’t brave enough to live up to the U.S. Constitution,  in order to live the American Dream. Wake up, everybody! You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be!

Bilingualism: A 21st Century Asset

¿Hablas Español?

                                            Parlez-vous Français?

Sprechen Sie Deutsche?

The ability to speak at least one language other than your native tongue, being bilingual, is an asset in today’s diverse society. In America, if not already, our unofficial second language should be Spanish, because we have so many Spanish speakers living among us. Chinese, Urdu, Russian, German,…..Italian, and a host of other languages and dialects can be heard spoken by people we pass along on our busy streets everyday. Isn’t anyone curious? Fascinated?

If anyone is prone to paranoia, certainly there must be some degree of curiosity when next to or near two or more people speaking in a language other than English. It is elitist of us, in America, to expect everyone who enters our national borders to speak English in order to acceptably communicate with us.We get offended when someone dares to not know this language, or speaks with very heavy foreign accents. Some even get offended and mock the Southern accent, and associate it with low[er] intelligence or racism when an American-born citizen dares to speak with that southern ‘drawl’. [That’s a different conversation, however.] We can be so insufferably intolerant! It is too difficult to understand foreign accents, we think to ourselves, and communication is strained. At least they make an effort to engage us in our native language, but do we extend the same courtesy?

We say,”This is America. Speak English!” And place the responsibility on others, recent immigrants, foreigners to conform and learn our official language with immediacy. How dare we think and behave so one-sided! Is anyone old enough to remember the time when a general high school diploma could not be earned without studying Latin, that dead language? I understand the reasoning, although I was lucky to graduate high school the first year after Latin was no longer a requirement for graduation. Much of our English words have Latin derivatives. Makes sense. I studied French and mastered Spanish anyway, as elective courses.

That was then, and this is now. The world is a global village, we exist in a global economy and we are to respect and appreciate diversity-even language diversity. Overall, having the ability to speak a second language is a wonderful and highly marketable skill and an undeniable asset. So many career areas pay higher salaries and employers actively recruit professionals with bilingual or multilingual skills, in all career sectors. Especially valuable in the helping professions, and those who work directly with the public, when one can eliminate potential language barriers, he or she tends to wear many hats and possesses great value to employers.  They become the ‘go-to’ person who serves as translator, liaison, advocate and designated communicator. That’s valuable!

Children who are raised in households where the primary spoken language isn’t English, aren’t handicapped at all. As ELLs[English Language Learners], they actually have a great advantage over other children whose primary language is English or monolingual. Allow me to explain some of the many benefits of being bilingual.

  1. Studies show that being bilingual has many cognitive benefits. Speaking a second language can mean that you have a better attention span and can multi-task better than monolinguals. Switching from one side of the brain to the other, constantly provides this benefit. There have been studies showing that bilingualism reduces the risk of having a stroke. Cognitive benefits effect kids and adults.
  2. Bilingualism has educational advantages. Many of the above benefits also can mean there is an advantage at school. Many studies have shown that they are less distracted and more task-focused. A Millennium Cohort study found that young children who are educated in their second language may initially fall behind their peers between 3-5 years old. But, they soon catch up and outperform their peers by age 7.
  3. As stated earlier, languages are highly valued in the workplace, with numerous employment benefits. Being bilingual means that there are more jobs opportunities depending on languages spoken. Bilingual skills is definitely a great plus for a resume, and can boost your chances of landing that job, even when you may not be as qualified as another monolingual applicant.
  4. Speaking a foreign language can be of great benefit when you travel. You can get around in many other countries around the world without knowing or speaking the native or local language. If you can speak the language, imagine how much more fulfilling and enjoyable your experiences will be when there. Immerse yourself in the language and culture and develop empathy, and multicultural sensitivity and awareness, almost effortlessly.
  5. One of the biggest misconceptions is that bilingualism is rare, but being bilingual means you are not the minority. More than half the world speaks more than one language on a daily basis. In fact, in many countries bilingualism is the norm.

Hopefully soon, the rest of the world will catch on, and that means us in the United States of America. Everyone should have the chance to learn a second language and reap the benefits of being bilingual. Imagine…some people are multilingual, and speak up to eight or more languages! That is fantastic, and a 21st Century asset in a global society. Bring foreign languages instruction back into our nation’s schools, not just for ELLs, but native English language speakers, too. Begin instruction as early as elementary school. Everyone benefits,  on a global scale, with bilingual skills. I suggest that we go out and learn a new language…today! ¡Adios!

Let’s Create a Culture of Family-Centered Practices in School Settings

greet parents

For professional educators, serving children in schools means serving the family as well, and we must adopt practices which will move school systems, procedures, perspectives, protocols and program policies, towards being family-centered in the framework of teaching and learning. The elements of family-centered practices all work towards empowering families with the knowledge and skills to make the best decisions  for their children and the family as a unit. When parents are empowered, they feel in control; a palpable sense of agency.They also become more invested when they feel they are respected as experts and collaborators in the educational planning process.

Professionals must recognize that when they develop a relationship with a child, they are also developing a relationship with the child’s family. The more collaborative the relationship is with families, the more invested and engaged the child becomes in the classroom and learning and achievement potential is optimized. Collaboration is the key, and successful relationships require hard work. When the life of a child is at stake, there is no room for failure-it is not an option.

An essential component of family-centered practice is collaboration in decision-making. As a model of partnership, family-centered practice has as its underlying philosophy the belief that
families are pivotal in the lives of children and should be empowered to engage in decision making
for them.
It actually has its origins in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, in that it recognizes that children exist within a wider context of family,
community and society where at every level the ecological system is interconnected. In this ecological system, the child, the family and the
environment are inseparable and what affects one member of the system impacts on the other members.  Each member of the system, and their relationships, are in turn influenced by the broader social, political and educational policies. It is this broader system (mesosystem) that shapes the perceptions, expectations and equality of the relationships that exist between the nested systems.

display key

Since we recognize the interconnectedness of these systems-family, child, school, community- it is logical that we likewise assume a multi-generational approach to teaching and learning at school. What empowers one system, empowers and impacts all others. “If you know better, you do better!” Today, we know better and more about the interplay between learning at home and learning at school. When all are aligned, we maximize successful learning outcomes, we enhance life quality for families, strengthen communities, and position our society and its citizens to thrive in a global economy-the global village.

What remains baffling, however, is why it seems to be such reluctance to ‘share’ power and expand the instructional audience to include families, adult caregivers, and diversity. There is an incredible difference between giving away power and sharing power.

Family-centered practices do not mean that the experts in education are relinquishing their expertise to the parents, whose expertise is in their child, culture and unique strengths they possess. Instead, we are asking that professional educators, whose knowledge, experience and expertise lies in their chosen specializations, share their knowledge and benefits from their expertise with families-a collaboration.

Family-centered practices is a partnership, an alliance between systems of care, where knowledge is shared, goals are mutually identified, designed and collaboratively implemented. When parents and families understand your purpose, recognize common interests, and are given the tools and skills to support and fully align with them, children fare better, relationships become more meaningful,
and come to life in the classroom, the home and the community at large-inseparably.

The pathway to this end is through authenticity, trust, respect and reciprocal communication.With a focus on strengths and solutions- finding, we must adopt a genuine appreciation for diversity, culture, language, family structure, etc… Unless and until we can honestly say that we understand the impact of our own culture and cultural experiences, as it influences our cultural lens, we are challenged to engage in family-centered practices with cultural competence.

Cultural competence is also at the core of family-centered practices, when working with children and their families. To respectfully teach and engage a child in learning is to respect and engage that child’s family and with that child’s culture. Demonstrating respect for the culture is to recognize the differences, acknowledge the similarities, and communicate, in conversation or classroom instruction, responsively. This brings us to ‘mirrors and windows’. Children require, not maybe, but definitely, require in their best interests, a healthy balance of both mirrors and windows in the classroom, within a curriculum framed by a broad and inclusive lens.

Eurocentricity and windows-focused curricula and instruction defy the ‘whole child-whole family’ philosophy, and is harmful to the comprehensive growth and development of children. It also negates our responsibility to empower every child and his or her family, as well. If diversity is represented in a school community, especially, and the instruction does not address, affirm or highlight that diversity, we are ‘mis-educating’ the child, disempowering the family and  performing a great disservice to that community.

Family-centered practices place children and families at the fore and central consideration at the core of curriculum, policy, practice, and procedural design and protocol…if indeed we endeavor to act in the best interest of children, and to help them realize their potential for school, career, and life success.

“So goes the family; So goes the nation.”... interconnectedness!

How Do You Measure Parent-Child Connectedness?

mom teen

Parent-Child Connectedness [PCC] has been defined as a positive, high quality emotional bond between a parent and child. It is mutually felt by both parent and child and is long-lasting.  Since it is sustained over time, research has shown that it is a “super-protector”, as it outweighs and mitigates most risk factors for children and adolescents. Linked to positive outcomes for adolescents, PCC is protective against delinquency/truancy, violent and aggressive behaviors, poor academic performance and a host of others.

PCC may buffer youngsters from the many challenges and risks that children face today. It has also been associated with 33 adolescent outcomes such as tobacco use, depression, pregnancy, eating disorders, HIV infection and more. How can PCC be linked with both positive and negative outcomes for children? Youth outcomes are greatly dependent upon level or the degree to which parent-child connectedness exists in a family unit.

PCC is not only important in traditional 2-parent homes, nuclear families, but equally influential in single headed households, as well. The key lies within the relationship between child and primary caregiver[s]. What does it look like?

To start, let’s get some general information about PCC:

  • PCC develops differently during different developmental stages of a child’s life.
  • For PCC to exist, it must be mutual. BOTH parent and child must feel it.
  • Parents with a strong connection to their children are more likely to see positive results when they model/teach positive behaviors, values and messages. Unfortunately, the effects of connectedness also hold when parents model negative behaviors.
  • Parent-child connection comes about as a result of the act of parenting, that is care-giving, and as such, is not necessarily dependent on the presence of biological parents or a particular family structure, such as the nuclear family.
  •  Communication (e.g., a topical discussion about sex) and involvement (e.g., attending open-school night) are two important behaviors needed for developing and maintaining parent-child connectedness, but neither behavior alone results in a state of high parent-child connectedness.
  • Ecological contexts, such as economics, public policy and neighborhood, have significant effects on families and their ability to promote connectedness. For example, parents coping with poverty are apt to experience more stress and illness. These effects may mean that parents have less time and energy to devote to connecting with their children.

    Seven key behaviors that PARENTS must consistently exhibit in order to establish and maintain connectedness with their child have been identified. These behaviors include:

    1) Providing for basic physiological needs (e.g., housing, nutrition, health care, etc.)

    2) Building and maintaining trust

    3) Demonstrating love, care and affection

    4) Sharing in activities with their teens

    5) Communicating effectively including the effective giving of, receiving and understanding messages

    6) Preventing, negotiating and resolving conflicts

    7) Establishing and maintaining structure including: a) establishing expectations, b) monitoring effectively, c) disciplining effectively, and d)providing positive reinforcement.

According to Lezin, et.al. in 2004, Parent-Child Connectedness is basically a “lasting bond between parent and child based on mutual respect, trust, love, and affection – all demonstrated in day-to-day interactions and expressed freely as both parent and child move through their relationship together” . They concluded that four constructs are essential for the cultivation of parent-child connectedness: a climate of trust, communication, structure, and time together.

To simplify this discussion, this concept closely aligns with parenting adolescents and the ongoing relationship parameters set by parent and felt by child. It is the structure of the boundaries established by parent that guide and inform outcomes. Communication and parenting style can vary from family to family. But, there are clear variables which, when in place, are key determinants of youth outcome.

PCC can be instrumental in risk prevention and a vehicle for cultivating assets. It is important to view youth as resources, people possessing strengths rather than problems to be solved. If this characterizes a parent or helping professional’s perception of adolescent youth, there must be a shift in thinking. Try using an alternative lens and discard the deficit perspective. Focus on strengths of both parent and child, and build upon them.

If your work involves engaging families and parents, it is important that some of these key factors pertaining to PCC be addressed. Supportive programming should include work centered around positive youth development for parents. Positive youth development occurs when the strengths of youth are supported with external resources such as schools and youth-serving organizations. The outcome of this alignment is operationalized by the Five Cs: Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, and Caring.

 

Competence refers to the youth’s positive view of his or her actions in domain specific areas including social, cognitive, academic, and vocational.  Confidence refers to the youth’s internal sense of self-worth and self-efficacy; one’s global self-regard rather than domain specific beliefs. Connection refers to the youth’s positive bonds with people and institutions that are reflected in bi-directional exchanges between the individual and peers, family, school, and community in which both parties contribute to the relationship. Character refers to the youth’s respect for societal and cultural rules, possession of standards for correct behaviors, a sense of right and wrong, and integrity. Caring refers to the youth’s sense of sympathy and empathy for others. When these are in place, a child is seen as “thriving” and life trajectories flourish rather than resemble risk and problematic behaviors.

 

Family cohesion, communication, involvement and supervision all are factors which define family strength, and hence the strength of presence of the Five C’s in children. Work with families must incorporate strategies and interventions which enhance and increase total child and family wellness, and PCC components which will strengthen families, as the primary objective. As we highlight all of these components, parents will tend to engage with schools more readily, and thus partner with educators to ensure comprehensive positive socio-emotional and academic development of their children.

Parents can maximize their capacity to enhance the bonds between themselves and their child, and family workers can assist in that regard. At school or in the community, the tools and skills which guide the relationship between parent and child should support positive parenting and positive youth development, and can be acquired and reinforced within meaningful and culturally responsive alliances. Mindful parents, mindful educator and other professionals will certainly lay the groundwork for raising mindful youth. Remember this: It will always take a village!