Anti-bias Approach, Diversity and Multicultural Early Childhood Education

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Have you noticed? There has been an increase in multicultural books and educational materials about diversity that have become available within the last ten or fifteen years. In a short period, the early childhood profession has seemed to embrace the goals of an anti-bias approach. NAEYC now acknowledges the importance of such an approach in position papers, accreditation materials and publications. They also devoted a section of the November 2005 issue of Young Children to the topic.

Other organizations have followed suit. The Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) has a position paper: "Preparation of Early Childhood Education Teachers", that includes the following standard," … Teacher preparation experiences, therefore, should develop…A comprehension of the variety and complexity of communication patterns as expressed by people of differing cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds in a global context… a knowledge and understanding of differences and similarities among societies and cultures, both at home and abroad.

The National Council for Social Studies ( NCSS) states in its standards: "A unified and cohesive democratic society can be created only when the rights of its diverse people are reflected in its institutions, within its national culture, and within its schools, colleges and universities." (NCSS 1991)

In fact, you may have read many times before that an anti-bias approach in early childhood programs is a worthwhile goal. This article will show you why such a goal is not only worthwhile, but also long over due!

The Time is Now for Our Schools and Childcare Programs

In any educational setting, a predominant goal is to meet the needs of the children enrolled. Schools and childcare programs alike must be sensitive and responsive to all of the families and children that they serve (Garcia, 1999). Current statistics show that our nation’s population is becoming increasingly diverse. Specifically:

  • The percentage of children in the United States who are Hispanic more than doubled between 1980 and 2004, from 9 percent to 19 percent, and is projected to increase to nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of the child population by 2020 (Child Trends Data Bank)
  • Between 1970 and 2004, the percentage of children living in father-only families increased from 1 percent to 5 percent (Child Trends Data Bank)
  • In 1995, of the 6.7 million children ages 5–17 in the U.S. who lived in homes in which a language other than English was spoken, 2.4 million (37 percent) had difficulty speaking English. (Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation 1997)
  • 40% of children in the U.S. public schools are from culturally diverse backgrounds. (NCES 2003).
  • Nationwide, more than 20% of children in Head Start speak a language other than English, (Early Head Start Program Information Report for 2001-2002 Program Year)
  • The number of children from immigrant families has increased by 63% in the last 10 years. (Beavers and D’Amico 2005).

The Time is Now for Our Young Children

Early childhood is often referred to as the magical or formative years: a time when rapid development is taking place. We know that it is in the first five or six years when a child’s stable characteristics such as disposition and social attitudes are developing.

Prejudice and bias are among the social attitudes that are formed during these years. Such attitudes often arise from fear caused by lack of understanding (Luhman and Gilman 1980).

Biases are not inherited; all biases, prejudices and attitudes must be learned. Young children do not develop negative attitudes from contact with a minority group, but rather with other’s negative attitudes, (Davey 1983).

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

(From the musical, South Pacific)

Racial and ethnic bias can start at a very early age (Kowalsky 2001) (Teichman 2001). Infants as young as six months react consistently to racial differences. (Katz & Kofkin 1997) (Katz 2003).

Mary Ellen Goodman (1952) outlines the development of racial and ethnic prejudice and bias. She identified three separate stages: awareness, orientation, and true attitude. During the stage of awareness, a child begins to notice similarities and differences. At this time, he or she is perceiving the objective features of people and making classifications on the basis of their perceptions. As early as the age of 2 ½ or 3, most children are aware of racial differences, (Katz 1982) (Roher 1977). Children of this age have a consciousness of differences determined first by physical traits. In the next few years, a child will learn to categorize distinct groups by language and clothing differences as well. (Smardo & Schmidt 1983) (Aboud 1987).

When a child reaches the orientation stage referred to by Goodman, he or she is exposed to bias related words and concepts, including derogatory labels and slurs. Stereotypes are frequently reinforced. Television, books and magazines still contain images that show various groups in stereotypical images or roles.

True attitude is when the child’s attitudes and biases are set, becoming rigid and non-changing. (Kranz & Ostler 1975). For example, children entering school already have a strong preference to play with the same color children, (Finklestein & Haskin 1983). A prejudiced viewpoint is difficult to change: It acts as a filter which everything is seen through. Racial prejudice in young children distorts their judgment and perception of reality (Kutner 1985).

A common goal of early childhood is to facilitate social development. Early skills lead to later social competence. (Sroufe & Rutter, 1984). Furthermore, social competence leads to successful school performance, improved job opportunities and more positive interactions with others (Rimm-Kaufman, Pianta, Cox, 2000). This objective can be obstructed by any negative attitudes present among the young children a classroom. We have a responsibility to promote positive social attitudes and resist bias. We also have a great opportunity and privilege. By valuing diversity while focusing on commonalties, we will help young children develop empathy and build bridges of friendship and understanding (Hahn 1980)(Stürmer & Synder 2006).

"And the child will have as an adult the imprint of his culture upon him. Whether his society hands him its tradition with a shrug, throws it to him like a bone to a dog, or teaches him each item with care and anxiety. (Cook 1954 p. 231)

If the children of today are to inherit the world of tomorrow, they must be prepared to survive in a changing world that is becoming smaller and increasingly interdependent. Promoting awareness, respect and appreciation for diversity is the foundation of improved relationships on both a local and global level. Now is the time!

Aboud, F. E. (1987). The development of ethnic self-identification and attitudes. In J. S. Phinney & M. J. Rotheram (Eds.), Children's ethnic socialization: Pluralism and development (pp. 32-55). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

ACEI Position Paper :Preparation of Early Childhood Education Teachers,

Beavers, L., & J. D’Amico. 2005. Children in immigrant families: U.S. and state-level findings from the 2000 Census. A KIDS COUNT/PRB Report on Census 2000. Baltimore: The Annie E. Casey Foundation; Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau.

Child Trends Data Bank,

Cook, Lloyd & Elaine. (1954). Intergroup Education. Greenwood Press

Curriculum Guidelines for Multicultural Education

Prepared by the NCSS Task Force on Ethnic Studies Curriculum Guidelines Adopted by NCSS Board of Directors, 1991

Davey, A. G. (1983). Learning to be prejudiced: Growing up in multi-ethnic Britain. London: Edward Arnold.

Early Head Start Program Information Report for 2001-2002 Program Year.

Finkelstein, Neal. & Haskins. (1983). Kindergarten Children Prefer Same Color Peers:. Child Development. 57, pp.502-508

Goodman, Mary Ellen. (1952). Race Awareness in Young Children. Cambridge: Addison-Wesley.

Hahn, S. L. "Let's Try a Positive Approach." Foreign Language Annals 13/5 (1980): 415-417.

Katz, P.A. (1982). "Development of Children’s Racial Awareness and Intergroup Attitudes.". In Katz, L.C. (Ed), Current Topics in Early Childhood Education., 4. Worwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corp.,

Katz, P.A. (2003) Racists or tolerant multiculturalists? How do they begin? American Psychologist 58 (11): 897–909.

Katz, P.A., & J.A. Kofkin. (1997) Race, gender, and young children. In Developmental perspectives on risk and pathology, eds. S. Luthar, J. Burack, D. Cicchetti, & J. Weisz, 51–74. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kowalski, K., & Lo, Y.-F. (2001). The influence of perceptual features, ethnic labels, and sociocultural information on the development of ethnic/racial bias in young children. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 32(4), 444-455.

Kranz, Peter &Ostler. (1975). "The Seeds of Racism within the Young Children: An American Tragedy", The Negro Educational Review. Vol. xxvi. No. 4 pp194-197.

Kutner, B. (1985) Patterns of Mental Functioning Associated with Prejudice in Children, Psychological Monographs, 72(406), pp. 1-48.

Luhman, Reid. & Gilman, Stuart. (1980). Race and Ethnic Relations: The social and Political Experience of Minority Groups. Wadsworth . Pp. 60-66.

(NCES 2003). NCES (National Center for Educational Statistics). 2003.,

Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., Pianta, R. C., & Cox, M. J. (2000). Teacher's judgments of problems in the transition to kindergarten. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15(2), 147-166.

Smardo, Frances. & Schmidt. Velma. (1983). Developing Multicultural Awareness, in Children Today. pp.23-25

Sroufe, A. & Rutter, M. (1984) The domain of developmental psychopathology. Child Development, 55, 17-29

Stefan Stürmer, Mark Snyder, Alexandra Kropp, and Birte Siem Empathy-Motivated Helping: The Moderating Role of Group Membership (2006)Pers Soc Psychol Bull 32: 943-956

Garcia, E. (1999). Student cultural diversity: Understanding and meeting the challenge (2nd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Teichman, 2001). Teichman, Y. (2001). The development of Israeli children's images of Jews and Arabs and their expression in human figure drawings. Developmental Psychology, 37(6), 749-761.

Trends in the Well-being of America’s Children and Youth, 1997 Edition by Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,