Exercise 3: Anti-biased teaching

Exercise 3: Anti-biased teaching

Please find below the famous quotation by Pat Parker from the poem “For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend”:

“The first thing you do is to forget that I’m black. Second, you must never forget that I’m black.” From Movement in Black 1978 by Pat Parker.


What does this say about intercultural awareness? Write down the underlying message of these words. What does this have to do with your students in school?

After having completed this task please read the text on “Anti-biased teaching approaches” which will refer to the message of the quotation.

    “Anti-biased teaching approaches” by Ramses Michael Oueslati –

    “Standhalten: Umriss einer rassismuskritischen Didaktik” translated from German and shortened by Leena Ferogh and Sebastian Schwäbe

    Full text version in German:

    How should teachers deal with cultural diversity, migration and racism in the classroom?

    The quote from Pat Parker that precedes this article reflects for me a central attitude that all those involved in teaching should learn and adopt in dealing with racism and migration. It shows a contradiction, in which not only teachers are involved, so that we should ask ourselves again and again, in which (teaching) situation racism and migration should play a role and in which not. There is no way out here except to accept this ambivalence in a mistake-friendly and yet serious way.

    On the one hand, it plays an important role within a school class and in teaching topics whether someone experiences migration and racism or not. Especially teachers without a migration background- but not only these – have to reflect on their privileges, e.g. a European passport and the associated residence title, appearance, access to housing and the labour market, etc., in order not to unconsciously make their milieu, their habitus and their environment with all its implications the yardstick of teaching or even assessment. It is highly recommended for us teachers to do so-called anti-bias training in order to become aware of the significance and consequences of the above characteristics and prejudices of any kind.

    On the other hand, there are many situations in which it does not matter where students come from or which cultural group they feel they belong to. Mirza, who is swapping peacefully football cards with Dominik and Cihat – Merve, who tells Celina the news from her last date, and then quickly copies Piotr’s homework, or Sara, whose sister wears a headscarf, while she still herself uses tons of hairspray. Problem-free contacts, in which we teachers are simply not needed, but from whom we can also learn. As teachers, we must therefore learn to perceive the many self-evident and successful moments of immigration societies at our own school.

    How can teachers empower?

    “My parents didn’t make it – why me?” A student said this to me even though she was one of the best in the class. In her opinion, her family had given up the belief in a better life. This message was regularly passed on to the children in her family by the parents.

    These students are looking for empathic teachers who dare to tell something about their lives and how they mastered situations courageously but not always straightforwardly and had to get up again. Perhaps they don’t have to and shouldn’t be stories of individual cases from (migrant) dishwasher to millionaire. These stories rather hide the fact that school is not designed for everyone to graduate from high school – but they can indeed be inspiring as self-fulfilling prophecy. So it is about sharing realistic life experiences that let you outgrow yourself. You can also do the following to empower students:

    • Invite local celebrities from business and politics to the classroom or school auditorium.
    • Invite (former) pupils as guests who have achieved outstanding results, e.g. from a recommendation for a lower secondary school leaving certificate to a vocational baccalaureate.
    • Invite socially ascended parents and brothers or sisters from formerly underprivileged milieus
    • Find a motivating prominent patron for the school
    • Include school names in the curriculum – e.g. Nelson Mandela School
    What kind of pedagogical approaches are there?

    Racism, economic inequality and gender discrimination are too serious global problems to be successfully dealt with by individual teachers in class. However, there is simply no broad-based empirical research into the effects of emancipatory approaches in pedagogy and on anti-biased teaching. We still do not know exactly which approaches and methods we can use in schools to counter the above-mentioned problems. Reflected practical experience, however, has produced a long-standing and trend-setting pool of literature and materials, which can perhaps be divided into three approaches:

    • knowledge acquisition
    • sensitisation
    • deconstruction

    It is unclear whether all three approaches are needed and in which order they should be approached with a school class. But what are the approaches about? Thus it can be briefly summarized that the first approach can also be described as a classical enlightenment approach. Through cognitive knowledge acquisition, students develop new differentiated knowledge (e.g. about nations, cultures, ethnicities and religions) in the hope that stereotypes will be critically questioned or argumentatively refuted.

    However, practice has shown that this approach is not sufficient, there is an additional need for awareness and reflection on experience- and emotion-led sensitisation (role-plays on moral courage, biographical learning, group work, tasks switching perspectives, empathy and solidarity skills, or the creation of an anti-biased class climate).

    The third, somewhat more recent deconstruction approach has established itself, but contains open questions.

    How do I deal with racist and anti-human rights statements?

    This question cannot be answered exhaustively here. Nevertheless, I would like to pass on some practical experience (e.g. in dealing with fanaticism, religiously shaped radicalisation and pupils who tend towards anti-Semitism). It is vital that teachers are critical of racism and espescialy important for students who have hardly any space in their world, who reflect on their thoughts and exchange them, or who hear or accept racist attitudes. Teaching in this context can fail because a few pupils do not deviate from their racist statements until the end of the lesson – sometimes only because they do not want to lose face in front of the class. This is usually difficult for teachers to bear and challenges their professional composure.

    Learning atmosphere instead of moralism

    The most common mistake in such a situation is to cap conflicts anxiously and morally, but that is certainly easier said than done. Such a reaction to (un)reflected attitudes of pupils in the form of political correctness at least does not lead to the dismantling of racism, but racism is simply no longer addressed. Anyone who suspects saying something wrong will hide it, but not necessarily reflect it. The pedagogical opportunity for pupils to encounter opposition from fellow pupils or teachers when racism is expressed is missed. The chance to work towards a change of attitude is also missed. Racism is thus capped in the classroom instead of making rooms for processing it possible. To exaggerate, this approach could be referred to as “shame pedagogy”.

    Offering shelters

    In my opinion, a dialogue in class has its limits when a teacher realises that in the long run a pupil is not open and willing to engage with others. A trusting atmosphere in which teachers (especially those without a migration background) take responsibility, can serve to surface racism and intervene if necessary in a controlled way. In addition, it makes sense to meet those affected by racism at eye level instead of patronising them and providing space for response. This is certainly not an easy mission and will not always run without emotional intensity for all those involved, but in my opinion there is currently no viable alternative, as we also know from anti-bias training with adults. In summary teachers cannot be expected to always act ‘correctly’, but we can create a culture in which teachers systematically learn from what they do and what they do not do.

    Building relationships... and keeping them

    We teachers should also practice that we do not see problematic students as tangible racists, but also perceive their needy sides. This is achieved by taking an authentic interest in them and helping them with their problems. This often allows the scapegoat they have identified to recede into the background instead of just discussing with them. Being a model who is acting in a human and competent way and standing by their side can be an element of surprise which makes them question their hate attitude. The pedagogical relationship should therefore never be broken off by the teachers. Otherwise there would be the danger that somebody is left in a fanatic circle of friends or an organisation. Usually these “friends” are not a great help when they are really needed and sometimes they even end up in jail. Then it is even more important that there is still somebody the student can turn to.

    I have sometimes experienced that students deviate from their fanatical first opinion and that this process lasted only 20 minutes due to an uncovering attitude of the teacher. Sometimes it takes two years… and sometimes there is no rethinking at all. However, we know from the science-based experiences of right-wing radicals to date that even after many years, drop-outs remember a contradictory but calm and humane teacher. Understanding such a student does not mean justifying ways of thinking or even actions.

    Does it have to be an entire lesson? Didactic principles

    Yes and no. Surely a deepening longer occupation with a teaching unit is necessary, meaningful and desirable! But it is not every time about an additional stack of copies with worksheets that are added to the material. If pupils and teachers are compulsively stressed in the permanent state of school time shortage, there is a danger that too much so-called “bulimia learning” takes place. This is drastically understood: Stuffing into the short-term memory, vomiting for the class test and then forgetting.

    And: Just as it is not desirable that “we talk about women’s history today” and then continue with the supposedly “normal” history lesson, a narrowly defined and one-off lesson on racism can prevent a self-evident and equal perspective. The impression for pupils that this is only a one-off special topic without really greater relevance is not avoided this way.

    Changing perspectives

    It is much more about a changed perspective, which presents the previous teaching topic or method in a new way. If we hang Arno Peters’ world map projection next to the supposedly “normal” Eurocentric Mercator map in the classroom, teachers will also realize that even scientific methods are never neutral. If we know Kant’s racist quotes, teachers will also understand the advancing colonization of the world in the 19th century and will at least not be able to sing the students a one-sided and unrestricted hymn of praise for the Enlightenment. And when we know that in the New Testament “the woman in the congregation has to remain silent”, we can no longer maintain a clear intercultural “we” and the “others” in class, but scratch anti-Muslim racism.

    Enriching units

    It also makes sense to enrich all teaching units with global, migrant and other differentiated contents and knowledge. These should be integrated into the current teaching units. For this reason, most of the teaching materials available to you here are also designed as cross-sectional materials. If Goethe is treated in class, his transcultural understanding is treated equally. For example, if history is about the so-called Renaissance, the global and migration-historical perspective should be interwoven in order to illuminate the same topic differently in the next lesson. And a documentary or a textbook is not put aside because Martin Luther King alone is emphasized as a recognized human rights fighter, but the omission of Malcolm X or his condemnation as a perpetrator of violence or even a terrorist is reflected from several perspectives or perspectives (multiperspectivity) and critically from the media.

    What goals and what structure should anti-biased teaching follow?

    The following competences should be initiated in the lessons spiral-curricular and should be implemented didactically according to the year.:

    • Students understand the socially dominant consequences of racism and how an empowering and/or problematic sense of belonging to a group is created (e.g. the powerful problematic division between Orient and Occident, empowering and problematic aspects of Black Culture identities, nationalisms of all kinds).
    • Students understand that many people with a migration history feel that they belong to more than one group (e.g. two natives as Turkish and German) and that life worlds are always ambiguous and mixed with other life worlds (e.g. Who actually determines who has to be integrated? When and how are people considered to be integrated at all?)
    • Pupils understand the diversity within social groups (e.g. city/country, milieus, minorities/majorities, age, political locations, social class, gender).
    • Students understand that, in addition to their experiences of racism and migration history, each student is individually diverse (hobbies, character strengths, gender identity, taste, lifestyle, political convictions, etc.).
    • Students position themselves on the fact that in many situations the (family) background is irrelevant
    • Pupils behave towards potential positive examples in which individuals and collectives have stood up for others and/or for themselves (e.g. Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Muhammad Ali, Rosa Parks, a recent incident in the playground or in the local press).
    • Students may be able to act successfully in their local (school, district) and other (city, country, EU) environments (e.g. practice civil courage in role-playing) and be frustration-tolerant with potential failure (e.g. if a school-initiated signature campaign is disregarded by the mayor).