#4: It starts early and we need it to not start at all

Why I care and why you should care is often a hard question for people to answer. Not me. I care because little children are getting blindsided by years upon years of bias. Who taught me to let my heart race when a black man walks next to me and when a man in a turban stands there smiling? It certainly wasn’t something I was born with, and it’s not something I’m afraid to admit now. Racism is ingrained in us the minute we step out into the world. Doesn’t that worry you? It freaks me out, that’s for damn sure.

I’ve discovered over the past week that bias is something we learn, whether purposeful or not. We can’t influence what parents are teaching their children, but we sure as hell can influence the learning environment they have once they step into our education institutions. There was a study done recently showing that preschool teachers start looking for trouble where it does not exist. “New research from the Yale Child Study Center suggests that many preschool teachers look for disruptive behavior in much the same way: in just one place, waiting for it to appear. The problem with this strategy (besides it being inefficient), is that, because of implicit bias, teachers are spending too much time watching black boys and expecting the worst.”

As for actually influencing the changes required to get the sort of mandated anti-bias training we need, I had to look up some suggestions. The one I found most helpful was this:

In your strategizing, you’ll need to determine

  • a) what are the causes of the problem,
  • b) what is the solution, and
  • c) who has the power to make the needed change–both what advocates can apply pressure, and what groups actually set the policy you want to change.

I have the answers to A and B, and C won’t be hard to get. I live in Montpelier, I was a page at or capitol building, I know how the system works. Instead of having my project depict why we need this change, I could go a step farther and actually start to make the change. That’s really exciting to me…

In short, to use Simon Sinek’s theory:

Why?: Because bias is killing our children.

How?: Pushing our state to mandate anti-bias training in elementary schools will not stop the problem, but it will help.

What?: A comprehensive short term training course for our teachers, mandated by the state.

I’m really, really excited.





Nathan DeGroot

2 Responses to “#4: It starts early and we need it to not start at all

  • Courtney Krahn
    6 years ago

    Dear Nathan,

    You look at some deep questions here, and you are not afraid to confront them honestly. In reference to racial biases you’ve identified in yourself, you write, “It certainly wasn’t something I was born with, and it’s not something I’m afraid to admit now.” I think this level of honesty will carry you far in your investigation and consideration of this topic — a topic that too many of us nervously dance around, rather than confronting it head-on.

    Your thinking is headed in the right direction. You’ve identified the problem and the change that you would like to see. Better yet, you’ve begun to brainstorm ways to head off the creation of biases before they begin at early ages in a child’s life. I think that mandatory anti-bias teacher training is definitely a start.

    Last night at dinner I was talking with my husband and a very close friend about gender biases. We were saying that often times school curricula contain texts that address the struggles of marginalized classes in our society. The problem with these novels is that they mostly depict marginalized individuals who are experiencing a struggle. The intent is obviously to expose students to people from all walks of life, but perhaps an unintended side effect is that by analyzing, for example, a character who is struggling with gender identity, we are suggesting that someone who is questioning their gender SHOULD be struggling, therefore marginalizing them. I bring this up because I believe that mandatory training for teachers of young children is a good start, but perhaps we also need to see where biases should — or shouldn’t?– be addressed in schools’ curricula.

    As I write this comment, I am re-reading my post and tweaking my language because I find myself nervous to be writing about sensitive topics in a public forum. You are pushing me, your reader, to consider these topics and talk about them in a space that is more powerful — because of its potential readership — than my kitchen table. Thanks for that.

    As always, I look forward to reading more…


  • Nathan, congratulations on arriving at some exquisitely sharp responses to the questions guiding your project: you’ve identified a clear, focused issue as one significant source of bias, and developed a finely-honed potential solution to that problem. Your surgical approach positions you perfectly to create a final product with genuine vision to which your audience can relate and a substantive direction for your audience to follow. When the trajectory is clear, the audience is not distracted by a diffuse message or multiple/vague calls to action.

    How do you plan to push Vermont to mandate anti-bias training in elementary schools? It sounds like you are thinking of making your plea directly to legislators. Do you think you might also need to get broad-based community support to help make such legislation a reality? Do you see your What’s the Story project as a video documentary that acts as a persuasive piece for one or both of these audiences? Or do you envision a video that documents your own efforts to meet with and convince legislators of the benefits of such a mandate?

    Happy brainstorming,

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