Webinar: Addressing Classroom Bias to Improve Learning

The school-to-prison pipeline has been prominent in the education debate for the past several years, and youth, parents, teachers, and communities across the country have put questions of school discipline, restorative justice and implicit bias at the heart of their organizing work. On September 1, Center for Policing Equity (CPE) Cofounder and President Dr. Phillip A. Goff joined us for a webinar, moderated by our President Dr. John H. Jackson, to unpack the latest research and insights on policing and implicit bias in schools.

CPE works collaboratively with law enforcement, school communities, and political stakeholders to identify ways to strengthen relationships with the communities they serve. Dr. Goff takes us back to where his interest in this research all began – his own high school experience. As a solid student, Goff found himself in unknown territory when a teacher antagonized him after missing school for being sick. The three black faculty members pulled Goff aside and said they were glad that it was Goff who was going through this – they’d seen this teacher pick on black students ever since he was hired, but they knew Goff was too strong of a student to be receiving this negative feedback. This experience woke him, and showed him that “if you are not steeped in the language of race and racial oppression, if you don’t have a language for engaging with it, you’ll find yourself often having conversations where you lose the argument, even though you know in your heart of hearts there’s something about it that wasn’t right.” Now, Goff knows the organizing research question – “What causes racial stratification? And can we use the language and the science of psychology to figure out better routes to address it?”

Goff’s research allows us to better navigate experiences similar to his own. He explains that the science shows that the issue is not simply contaminated hearts and minds or a matter of character – racial bigotry can decline significantly while racial inequality persists. The core lesson from the science is this: “attitudes are relatively weak predictors of behavior; situations are much, much better.” Goff explains that we all have implicit bias to various degrees, and thus what we should be looking at are the situations that are more likely to provoke behavior that is influenced by implicit bias.  

The majority of Goff’s research focuses on policing, and he studies identity traps and how they influence officer behavior. He explains that as of today, there is not a lot of publicly available data on these topics, and so CPE is building the National Justice Database in order obtain concrete data on police behavior. So far, over 40 national police departments and law enforcement agencies have signed on to participate in the building of the database.

The collaboration between CPE, law enforcement, and school communities proves as positive change forward, together, for gathering concrete research as tools to guide us in a more just direction in the future. A concrete thing you can do right now, Goff advises, is be aware of the risk factors (teachers multitasking, not prepared, not trained, don’t have enough resources, no clear rules or motivation for equity, etc.) for identity traps in your child’s classroom. He emphasizes it is these situations, not simply the attitudes of the individuals, which can provoke behavior influenced by implicit bias. We look forward to learning more from these inspiring and necessary collaborations between CPE, law enforcement, and school communities, as they work together to gather critical data in order to strive for equity within our children’s schools.

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