By Carla Thomas
We face a time of tremendous change and conflict. It is never more apparent than when this turmoil impacts our schools. As communities across the nation are trying to make sense of recent tragedies and school violence, each of us is tasked with considering how best to resolve our concerns. Students across the nation are demanding gun control. They are making their frustrations demonstrable. Politicians are debating which measures don’t infringe upon individual rights. One current proposal put forward would require that public schools have the option to arm their teachers. I suggest that we have chosen not to face one of the most critical aspects of this problem, bias.
The scope and complexity of bias is that it influences each and every one of our human interactions. Researchers have argued that the pervasive nature of bias is rooted in how we create associations with our own lived experience. These associations happen intentionally (explicit bias) and unintentionally (implicit bias). We cannot escape our associations as they are how we come to understand the world around us. That means that we can’t afford to operate under the assumption that bias doesn’t play a part in how we interact with one another, particularly in our policy-making.
Interactions with authority is a prominent example of the larger phenomenon. For example, a trained officer is asked to serve and protect with lethal force if necessary. Research indicates that, “police officers may be affected by culturally shared racial stereotypes (i.e., showing bias in their response times [to firing weapons]), and they are no more liable to this bias than are the people who live and work in their communities” (Correll et al., 2007). If officers face the same struggle to decipher between race and danger, how is a teacher expected to respond? Bias in the classroom is not a new concept (Weinstein & Obear, 1992), but introducing weapons created a whole new dynamic. Teachers are already expected to meet so many demands in our overcrowded public-school systems. Is arming a teacher truly the right avenue to protect our students? Have we fully considered the unintended consequences of this policy enactment?
I have no intention of arguing a particular side of the gun control debate, but it is my firm belief that until we fully confront how bias plays a part in our civic discourse, policy and practices, we will continue to fail to meet these issues head-on. Throughout history and certainly within our present-day communities, humans are grappling with our social norms. I don’t believe there is a silver bullet to addressing the battles we face, but I know it starts with asking the right questions.
From the Parent’s Perspective:
- As a parent, if you’re child’s school decides to enact this policy, what decisions can you make if your options are limited for alternative schooling environments?
From the Student’s Perspective:
- A student is now forced to learn in an environment where the person in a position of authority is armed and may see them as a threat. How does psychological safety impact learning?
From a Legal Perspective:
- What is the school administration’s additional exposure to liability in the event of an incident?
Correll, J., Park, B., Judd, C. M. Wittenbrink, B. Sadler, M. S. & Keesee, T. (2007) Across the thin blue line: police officers and racial bias in the decision to shoot. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92(6), 1006.
Weinstein, G., & Obear, K. (1992). Bias issues in the classroom. Encounters with the teaching staff. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 1992 (52) 39-50.
Carla Thomas, MSc. is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of The Realize Leadership Group, a consultancy focused on Organizational and Leadership Development, Diversity Equity & Inclusion.