Explicit or implicit, discrimination can affect one’s life on different levels. Unfortunately, even educational institutions are not immune to it. Bias and discrimination can be seen in school policies, teachers’ attitudes, and relationships among students. As a result, the place where people should feel most supported and accepted often brings on inequality and marginalization. It affects the educational system in the US in terms of discipline, security, and funding as well as causes serious psychological consequences.
Stereotypes and bias influence the approach of teachers and school administration to discipline. It determines the way they work with students who belong to minorities. This includes the evaluation and interpretation of student behavior and participation, which results in unfair or unreasonably severe punishments.
For example, Black students are stereotypically viewed as aggressive and violent. According to the GAO report, they are disproportionately disciplined. Representing only 15 percent of the student population in the analyzed public schools, they account for 39 percent of suspensions. This results in their overrepresentation. Such discipline disparities make these students more likely to fail academically and drop out of school.
The pattern of disciplinary action is, unfortunately, not uncommon. It can be found in all types of public schools. Disproportionate disciplinary action is often a result of implicit bias, i.e., subconscious ideas that influence our judgment. Yet, such subtle beliefs have psychological, social, and academic consequences on students.
Consciously or unconsciously, a person forms beliefs about different social groups. Negative stereotypes are also reinforced by the repetitive narrative in the media. They often pigeonhole brown and black people as aggressive and hostile. This bias provokes people to take strict (and often unjustified) security measures.
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Strict security measures have a distorted purpose in schools with a large number of minority students. Such schools lose their initial purpose, which is to educate and focus more on control. Besides, constantly seeing armed guards in school can only cause anxiety and discomfort. It deprives students of the chance to get a rich and enjoyable learning experience.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with creating a safe environment for students. However, like in the situation with school discipline, strict security measures are often used against students who belong to minorities with significant disparities in their application. As a result, it only increases personal discrimination against people of color.
Discrimination against certain groups of people also impacts the distribution of resources. It primarily affects students from underprivileged families as well as non-white students. The districts with the highest poverty rates receive $1,000 less per student than those districts where the poverty levels are low. The same inequality in funding can be seen in the districts with the largest non-white student population.
Such a funding gap is attributed to a number of social and historical reasons. Communities of color have been subjected to discrimination and injustices for decades. This has generated racial wealth inequality and an unbalanced distribution of assets. Considering the fact that the major part of school funding comes from local property taxes, the wealth gap creates significant inequality in funding among schools.
What difference does it make for students? Students who attend school in the mentioned communities cannot enjoy equal opportunities. Compared to others, they get fewer instructional resources, lower-quality learning materials, outdated laboratories, etc. Besides, unequal funding also leads to larger class sizes and lower-quality teaching. In the long run, all these factors influence student achievement.
Apart from its effects on the educational system as a whole, discrimination and bias influence the well-being and performance of students. This includes a range of psychological consequences that lead to negative academic and social outcomes. According to the report from the Migration Policy Institute, students who experience any kind of personal discrimination find it difficult to maintain motivation and adequate self-esteem.
The psychological consequences of discrimination have the same patterns for everyone regardless of their background. If not addressed, personal discrimination may result in depression, anger issues, and risky behavior.
Naturally, discrimination is a major factor that causes students to underperform. As they lose motivation and confidence, they get lower grades and risk dropping out of school. Disengagement from school activities becomes a defense mechanism for students who are not treated with respect by teachers and peers. They refuse to associate themselves with a place where they do not feel safe and valued. As a result, they become isolated and cannot build friendly relationships with others.
What We Can Do
The primary goal of the educational system in the US is to eliminate bias and discrimination. Every student is unique and deserves to be treated fairly. Therefore, policymakers, educators, students, and parents need to combine their efforts to ensure that everyone can enjoy equal educational opportunities and a safe learning environment.
Here are the basic recommendations that will bring us one step closer to discrimination-free education:
- Support inclusion in school policies.
- Train teachers to work in diverse classrooms.
- Encourage cultural sensitivity.
- Update curriculum and learning materials to serve the needs of a diverse and inclusive society.
- Never leave discrimination unaddressed.
- Raise awareness of implicit bias.
To progress as a nation, we need to eradicate any manifestations of inequality and discrimination.
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