Prospective teachers more likely to view Black children as angry, study on implicit bias finds

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Monday, July 6, 2020
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NC State and UNC researchers teamed up on a study that found prospective teachers were more likely to view Black children as angry, even when they were not.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill researchers teamed up on a study that found prospective teachers were more likely to view Black children as angry, even when they were not.

"People in general and teachers as well are not very good at recognizing what other people are feeling and thinking. And people are not very good at showing what they're feeling and thinking," said Dr. Amy Halberstadt, an NC State psychology professor who is one of the study's authors.

The researchers, who worked with a team from George Mason University in Virginia, surveyed 178 prospective teachers from three teacher training programs. The prospective teachers were shown 72 short video clips of child actors' facial expressions, with each one displaying a different emotion.

"They have 25-30 children in the classroom. All they're going to get is a little snippet," said Halberstadt, explaining why the clips were short.

The video clips were divided equally between Black and White students and between boys and girls. After watching the clips, the teachers were asked to identify the emotion shown.

According to the study, participants were 1.36 times more likely to exhibit racialized anger bias against Black children than White children; 1.16 more times likely to misidentify a Black boy's facial expression compared to his White counterpart, and 1.74 times more likely to misidentify a Black girl's facial expression for anger compared to her White counterpart.

"Black children when they're experiencing sadness or happiness or surprise or just going about their business, can be seen as angry, even when they're not, compared to the White children," said Dr. Halberstadt.

The difference is especially jarring, considering data that shows a disparity in suspensions between Black students and White students. A March 2018 report by the US Government Accountability Office found Black students received 39% of school suspensions, despite making up less than 16% of the student body.

"What it suggests is that when teachers see anger, they react to it. And in this case, they're not even seeing anger--they're just reacting to what they think is anger," said Halberstadt.

Letha Muhammad, a Wake County mother who serves as the Director of the grassroots group Education Justice Alliance, said her son experienced this implicit bias firsthand when he was in middle school.

"He had a few incidents with a teacher who was perceiving certain behaviors as negative, which were totally unjustified," said Muhammad.

The group encourages districts to replace school resource officers with community intervention workers, whose focus would include conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques.

SEE MORE: Student calls on Durham schools to defund school resource officers in favor of mental health programs

She'd also like to see bias training become a point of emphasis for educators.

"Training that allows teachers to examine their implicit and explicit bias is needed and it should be required," said Muhammad.

Dr. Halberstadt said researchers plan to study the same topic with current teachers next.

"I think it's absolutely critical for education that teachers become aware of this bias and pause for a moment to reflect before they react," said Halberstadt, who said other research shows other adults share the same bias.

RELATED: UNC System creates racial equity task force but students stress more action needed going forward

"I'm a Black woman, so that idea of bias and the ways in which people look at Black people, in general, I've dealt with my whole life. So to see that this study is also finding that (prospective) teachers hold this same bias when it comes to Black students is not surprising," Muhammad said.

In the study, the children were between 9 and 13 years old--upper elementary school and middle school students. Researchers used two facial recognition experts as part of their work, which took years to compile and analyze.