The LES anti-bias curriculum is the compass that guides our community. Through this comprehensive, school-wide approach, students learn about themselves and those around them; they learn to understand and celebrate differences; and they practice behavior that demonstrates an appreciation for all perspectives.
Stereotypes keep us all from knowing each other well and discourage real thinking about differences. Our award-winning anti-bias curriculum provides a framework for considering the effects of bias, stereotypes, and labels in our culture and on each other.
More than a social curriculum, it is also an approach to developing critical thinking. Students who are comfortable questioning social stereotypes will also question academic assumptions, read with greater discernment, and think more deeply about the processes of analysis and interpretation.
The anti-bias curriculum at Lesley Ellis is infused throughout our entire community and is as much a way of life as it is an intentionally designed program. We aim to give children a tangible framework for considering the effects of bias, stereotypes, and labels in our culture and on each other, while also giving them the tools to be proactive, ethical, and independent critical thinkers.
As students’ understanding of bias develops, so too does their understanding of people and cultures, as well as the systems of advantage and oppression that exist in the world. With increased understanding comes the development of essential skills that can be broadly applied in all areas of their education and individual lives:
- how to distinguish between opinion and fact;
- how to draw valid conclusions from observations;
- how to respond to situations of bias and discrimination.
While many schools, both public and private, have initiatives aimed at creating tolerance and respect, the Lesley Ellis program is rooted in a developmental model of learning that engages children’s innate desire to observe, question, consider, and eventually think deeply about complex interpersonal issues. It is designed to address the intellectual as well as the social dimension of learning.
It’s the Differences That Count
Lesley Ellis teachers are trained to encourage discussions about differences. As such we proactively address eight major areas of bias: racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, ageism, religious intolerance, and size acceptance.
Talking about differences can be uncomfortable and emotionally challenging. Family perspectives sometimes conflict with school and/or social points of view, and past individual experiences can be emotional pressure points. But when we address our differences intentionally and respectfully—from a place that is welcoming and safe—we honor our students’ ability to be open minded. And we honor the diversity in all the communities to which we belong so that we are better equipped to be aware and responsible citizens.
“The anti-bias curriculum’s success has a lot to do with this school’s developmental, progressive pedagogy,” says Andy Stratford, Grade 5/6 teacher. “The natural process of learning is to make observations about your environment and then to create rules for ordering your experience. Young children are remarkably observant and quick to find rules. Rules help children generalize about the world and organize what they know.”
The anti-bias curriculum informs program decisions, conversation topics, and modeled behavior. It is integral not only to the academic curriculum, but also to dedicated anti-bias class times that begin in the elementary grades. In addition, faculty at all levels are keen observers and participants—helping to guide children through the complexities of their diverse universe.
- We make deliberate choices about the books we read so topics are introduced academically as well as socially.
- Our study of history ensures that multiple perspectives and contexts are represented.
- We invite developmentally appropriate reflective conversations about differences of all kinds, including skin color, family structure, sexuality, identity, and religious beliefs.
- Children work hard to understand their own emotions as a stepping stone to understanding the emotions of others.
- We observe children’s interactions and behavior and use these observations to address shared challenges.
- There is always an emphasis on impact vs. intent. While someone may not have meant to be hurtful, we must understand the effects our actions can have on others.
- Multiple tools and strategies are used to understand impact and to resolve conflict so there is always a path to growth.
- Faculty and staff model behavior that is inclusive and respectful. They listen to their own conversations through a child’s lens.
Setting A New Standard
For their work in developing this program, Lesley Ellis received the 2005 Leading Edge Award for Equity and Justice from the National Association of Independent Schools. “Independent schools have the freedom to experiment and model innovative programs that other schools can then adapt within their own settings,” said former NAIS President Patrick Bassett.