Posts by Joan Klinkner

Uncovering Bias

I believe an important first step toward becoming more culturally responsive and inclusive is to become aware of the biases that are pervasive in our society, and within our own perceptions. I found a useful activity in a book of teaching strategies: Carter, M. & Curtis, D. (1994). Training teachers: a harvest of theory and practice. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

I pair this with a reading of “The Parable of the Ups and Downs” followed by an interactive activity exploring the “up” and “down” groups in our society today.   I then hand out the “Isms” activity and reflective journal.

Carter, M. & Curtis, D. (1994). Training teachers: a harvest of theory and practice. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

“Isms” Self-Portrait

Isms Self-Portrait


After discussing the “Isms” diagram in class, construct a “self-portrait” of the “isms” you might be faced with in your own life.  In the chart below, list which group you fall into for each of the “isms”.  You may add other categories if they fit your identity or experience.

+ (dominant group) (dominated group)

Now go back to your categories and add a rating to indicate your personal feelings about your membership in each category.  Use the following symbols:

+     means “I like this about myself”

?     means “I am confused about this part of myself”

  • means “I don’t like this about myself”

!      means “I am most identified with this part of myself”

Reflect on the times when you have been on the “plus” side of the column, and when you have been on the “minus” side.  Consider what it means that each of us experiences a combination of privilege and oppression because of our membership in different societally determined groups.  Reflect on the difference between the societal categories (given to you by “others”) and your individual self-esteem (how you feel about yourself).  Does one influence the other?  How do you maintain your self-esteem when you get negative messages applied to you by society?  What can you do to counter the negative messages you receive about your self-identity?  What can you do to counter the negative messages applied to the children and families you work with?

My goal is for my students to explore their own personal experience of bias and spark awareness of the impact on their self-concept, and to promote their commitment to broader awareness of bias in working with others (especially children and families). Since many of my students are mostly unaware of the impact of bias, this exercise has opened their eyes to the issues and experiences that others have had regarding privilege or discrimination as well as framing their own experiences in a more critical light.

Here are some examples of the reflections from students:

  • “I learned that there are people that struggle with these things each and every day. I have never really thought about how little things like how much money you have or whether you are a man or a woman can affect people, even in this day in age.”
  • “To counter the negative messages about my self-identity I can remember to resist the thought of starting an argument or defending myself in a harsh way to them. It is important to not let other’s opinions affect me, even though that seems to be much easier said than done.”
  •  “I think it’s important to teach children to resist bias because they’re going to encounter people who have opinions on others. We will be teaching the children to respect and embrace differences and acting against bias and unfairness. The goal is to create a climate of positive self and group identity development where children can achieve their fullest potential.”

Joan Klinkner