, , , ,

For the past few months I have wanted to write this post but I did not know how to start it or exactly what I wanted to say. Even as I type now, I am still apprehensive about what I want to write.

For the past year or more, the news and other media outlets have been riddled with stories about unarmed black men (and some women)  stopped, shot, and killed by white officers.  Those specific events are not what I want to discuss. I do, however, what to talk about the overarching concept of implicit bias. In short, implicit bias occurs as a result of our socialization and experiences. Throughout our life, we are exposed to messages about different groups of people based on social class, race, age, ethnicity, religion, etc.  These messages shape our thoughts and opinions about these groups without our realizing it.  Positive or negative, these unconscious biases influence how we perceive and interact with other groups. Most of the time, we do not even realize this is going on until it is pointed out to us.

So why do I bring this up? Why am I talking about this now? Recently, my husband and I went through an ordeal with our son and his daycare. Let me say upfront that I know my child has/had his own issues to overcome. I am not arguing that. For example, our son has a speech delay and attends speech therapy. He had problems communicating with the other children and the teachers which frustrated him. He would act out by hitting.

So what am I arguing? What was the issue? The issue is that the daycare had me convinced (for a while) that my son was just uncontrollable and was the root to all of the problems at daycare. When I would pick him up, he would either be sitting in time out or playing by himself away from the group. The first thing the lead teacher would say to me was all of the issues they had with my son that day.

Based on these reports, we worked with our son on ALL of the things the lead teacher said was wrong. Extra time practicing sharing and taking turns. Finding alternative ways to express his anger and frustration. We enrolled him into speech therapy within weeks of being told he had an issue. Once he turned three, we enrolled him into a developmental preschool (3 hours a day, 4 days a week) that also works with speech and other issues.  We made playdates with other kids when we could. We went to the park so he could play with other kids. We signed him up for youth sports through the local YMCA.

My husband and I saw a huge improvement in his behavior. At the park and sports practices, he took turns and played well with the other kids. We received mostly good reports from his preschool. At the time, we were still working on listening and following instructions. This is difficult for him because he still has problems processing and understanding instructions without visual cues.

His speech was progressing, and he started to tell us about his day the best he could. There was one thing that he would tell me every day… “Joe* hit me.”  I would ask him if he hit Joe. He would say yes. Then I would ask him, did you hit Joe and then he hit you?  Sometimes he would say yes… “I hit him and he hit me.” Other times he would say “He hit me and I hit him.”  With each conversation, I will tell him not to hit and if Joe or any other kid hit him, just tell his teacher.

One day, there was a class party and the parents were invited. I went and observed and tried to stay out of the way the best I could.  This is what I witnessed on this occasion: My son would be playing with a toy. Joe (yep, figured out who Joe was quickly) would come and take the toy. My son would take it back, Joe would cry, tell the teacher and they attempted to reprimand my son until I spoke up.  My son then goes to another area, they are playing with instruments. My son is playing with some drum sticks. Joe goes over to my son and starts hitting him with a stick. My son tells him to stop several times before finally hitting him with the stick. Joe starts to cry. Again, the teacher tries to reprimand my son. I don’t stop the punishment, because he should not hit, especially with an object, but I do inform the teacher the other boy started hitting first. So they put Joe into time out as well.  So I figured out part of the problem, my son does not cry enough.

At home, I told my son to cry whenever someone hits him and tell the teacher. Do not hit back, just cry. After that, things got a little better for a while.  (This was September through February).

In March, all of the paperwork and evaluations for the developmental preschool were completed and he started going there for the greater portion of the mornings.  I would drop him off to daycare around 8a, the bus would pick him up from the daycare at 8:45a and drop him off at 12:15p. He would have lunch, take a nap until 2p and I would pick by 4:30p. In all, he would spend 3 hours at daycare 4 days a week, and all day on Fridays.  So imagine my surprise when I would pick him up and there was nothing but negative reports from the lead teacher (not the other teachers) every time she worked the later shift.

In April, the preschool (part of the public school system) went on Spring Break. Everything went downhill from there. By Tuesday, the lead teacher was calling me saying my son was out of control and needed me to pick him up early (it was 3:30p at that time). By the time I arrived, she was not there, so we just left. From that point on, when I dropped him off to daycare, he did not want to go. He would cry and scream…completely out of character for him. He regressed in his potty training and started acting out the preschool. At home, he would say that Joe hit him. When I picked him up, he would be in time out.

So, I arrived early to pick him up one day so I could catch the lead teacher and chat with her. Again, she told me how horrible is behavior was, he was hitting the other kids way too much. I then pointed out (nicely) that when my son comes home, he tells me that Joe hit him.

Her response? Well, parents come in and tell me all the time their kids said another kid did this and that to them, and typically the “guilty” kid was not even in attendance that day, you know, kids make things up.

Did you just call me son a liar? (internal thought).

Well, we have been hyper vigilant watching our son interact with other children at the park and other activities. We do not see the behavior that you are talking about. We asked his preschool teachers, they too haven’t witnessed this behavior.

Her response: Kids are really smart. The kids here have been together for a while and they know how to get each other into trouble. They know that if your son gets to too wound up and excited, he can’t calm down easily and that he will get into trouble. They know how to pick on each other that way. We have 18 children currently and will have 22 next week, we can’t see all of the things all of the kids are doing.

Seeing that I was not going to get anywhere with this teacher, I left. Visited another daycare the following day and gave them a two-week notice that I was switching to a new childcare provider.

Today, my son is flourishing! He loves his new daycare and is excited to go every-single-morning! Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night asking if it is time to go to [daycare].  We get mostly good reports. He is 3, so he does have his bad days.  I cannot tell you how much of a relief it is to pick him up, everyone is all smiles, and the teachers are like “he is such a good boy!”

Potty training is back on track! We only use night-time undies, and even most of the time he is dry when he wakes up.

So what does this have to do with implicit bias?

In discussing this situation over with a few colleagues, I learned that differential treatment by race in schools start as early as preschool. One NPR Black Preschoolers are Far More Likely to be Suspended”. If you conduct a quick search, you will find many of these headlines. These media outlets are basically reporting information based on recent research that black children, especially males, are often assumed to be older than they are and are expected to behave at a different age appropriate level than their white peers. Further, the stereotype that black men are more aggressive than others penetrates into the preschool years. Therefore, black, male, preschoolers’ actions are taken more seriously than other children’s behaviors. However, this happens on a subconscious level. Teachers are not setting out to treat children differently, but have been socialized to do so throughout their lifetime.

When going through this with my son, I knew that implicit bias was part of the problem. But I did not want to start off the conversation with the teach saying it was a race issue. Yes, my son was the only black boy in his classroom. However, you can’t start a conversation by saying it is a racial thing. I am 90 percent sure this teacher did not intentionally treat my son differently because of the color of his skin. She probably didn’t even realize there was some sort of implicit bias occurring.   I am not even saying this is actually the case.  All I can say is this was our experience and based on that experience and research, implicit bias is most likely the culprit. That is why I took the steps I did before withdrawing him from the center.

What do I want you to get from this post? I really do not know.

  • Trust your gut. If you see a change in your child, explore the reasons for that change.
  • Be aware the bias and racism does exist.
  • When you hear about the “problem child” in your child’s class, ask yourself why that child is deemed the “problem” and what are the teachers/schools doing to address it?
  • If you know of anyone else going through something similar, please share my story.

Until Next Time!