Study Finds Teachers’ Biases and Fears Limit Needed Discussions About Race in the Classroom

Across the U.S., K-12 public school teachers face significant psychological barriers to discussing issues of race and racism with their students, according to new research by University of Massachusetts psychologists, Linda Tropp and Christina L. Rucinski.

Analyzing data from two large surveys, each including responses from more than 1,000 K-12 teachers, researchers found that teachers’ implicit racial biases and their explicit fears of being perceived as racist both independently contributed to lower intentions to talk about race with their students. Recent teacher training and professional development programs have typically focused on educating teachers about implicit racial biases – that is, unconscious racial biases they may have and about which they may have limited awareness – without sufficiently addressing teachers’ conscious concerns about how they may be seen, or how their comments may be interpreted. “This research was done to try to understand what can sometimes get in the way of teachers’ best intentions to want to talk about race with their students,” says Dr. Tropp, the lead author of the study.

In light of current political and social debates about race-related topics in school curricula, Dr. Tropp says it is increasingly urgent for teachers to discuss race in the classroom to help students process what they see and hear outside of the classroom. She notes: “By providing stu­dents with opportunities to engage in meaningful discussions about race, teachers can prepare them for respectful exchanges of perspectives with others and full participa­tion as engaged citizens in an increasingly multifaceted and diverse society.”

The full study, “How Implicit Racial Bias and Concern About Appearing Racist Shape K-12 Teachers’ Race Talk With Students,” was published on the website of the journal Social Psychology of Education. The study may be accessed here.

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