Making biases visible

Making biases visible

Last week, families gathered to discuss how work currently happening at Opal School supports knowledge and dispositions central to social justice and global citizenship. Families heard short stories from each of the classrooms to explore those connections.  

As we continue to grow into this work, we feel it’s important to do so in conversation with parents – recognizing the vulnerability doing so demands, as we recognize gaps between where we are and where we hope to be.  We’ll extend that vulnerability to you.

As you read Kye Ginger’s reflection on what is happening in the Dogwood community of first- and second-graders, what do you notice? What do you wonder about? 

Global citizenship, like so much of social justice work, doesn’t happen once and it’s over.  This work is never perfect. It’s practice. Really important practice. Perhaps, when we view our mistakes (and the mistakes of others) without shame, they might even be the catalyst for change.  

I was curious about the role of practice as children continued to try to navigate what it means to be seen and have a voice in a community. Many children have been finding out that in their desire to be heard, they were simultaneously stepping on or ignoring other children’s ideas.  We decided to read a book called Invisible Boy. I thought this book could remind us how human it can be, how often unintentional it can be, to not see someone else – AND how important it is to see clearly, to really tune in and listen.  

In the book, a child is described as invisible.  We wanted to unpack with the children why this might be happening.  Dogwood couldn’t agree on a why at first.

Some of their initial thoughts included:

I think [his invisibility] is partly his fault because he’s not standing up for himself. 

I think they don’t really want to be his friend.  

He’s not choosing to be invisible, but he’s not doing anything about [being invisible]. 

Everybody that said he should try to be more assertive. It’s a lot harder when you’re the actual person. They literally try to find anything to try and bully you with.  

After being asked, “Why do you think they don’t want him to be on the team?”, one child noticed that there is a line in the story that might help with the problem and he said it back in his own words.  He noticed that it says, “He’s not good [at the sport] and he’s not their friend and the categories are friends or good players.” 

They began to discover a tension.  Many realized that in order to really see someone else, you had to play with them – but that it’s easier to play with friends you already know, which might mean that you too are more likely to see your friends and the friends of your friends. 

They realized that could mean people in Dogwood might be invisible, too. 

During the read aloud they knew they didn’t want THAT to happen in Dogwood.  They wanted people to feel visible. So, the teachers decided to have a Partner-Explore to see if they could put this theory in action.  Partner-Explore has many purposes, but for this one we asked that they find a bridge buddy, or someone who they had not played with yet this year, with the task to notice them as they played.  We saw that when they went to Partner-Explore that very thing they didn’t want to happen, happened. We saw quite a few had wandered from people bridge buddies to find those more familiar peers, struggled to share their ideas, or take in the ideas of others.

Afterwards, we asked if they were surprised that some people had said they had felt invisible during this time.

It doesn’t surprise me [that people felt invisible] because people who are friends with people they would always feel visible, but if you go off with a person that feels like a bridge you might not play together much so you might not feel visible. I think it’s part of how Partner-Explore works.

It did surprise me, because my partner said she felt visible and I felt visible 

Some suggested that invisible might be something we miss if we don’t really try to see it.  Before they went off again the next day, they decided on what action to take if they thought they felt invisible or someone else felt invisible.  They listed ideas like snapping ideas together, planning before starting, and being flexible.

After two more days with the same partner, we asked them to reflect one more time on how their choices supported them to get what they wanted – a space where they felt visible, and, if someone felt invisible, they knew what to do to help them be seen again.

One student said about this time together, “It changed how I thought about him.”  When asked if they carried an assumption, another said, “I did originally, but I don’t anymore.” 

During this work, so many found that they had things in common with people they didn’t think they had anything in common with.  Their choices, like to “just ask her idea and I’ll try to include her ideas” created new friendships. One student reflected, “[My partner and I] weren’t really friends and making something together made us friends.  Maybe because we worked together instead of someone just working alone. We didn’t take the risk [before] but when we were together it grew friendship.” This makes me wonder: What other risks might the children be willing to take for friendship?  For connection? It leaves me wondering, What new ways will we discover together to playfully unpack the biases in the room? How might noticing our biases, and the mistakes we make because of them, help them see and unpack biases outside of our classroom?  How might that inspire us to take action, knowing we will need to take risks as we make even more mistakes along the way?

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