Implicit Bias Part of New Guide to Framing School Discipline Reforms

School discipline has rightfully gained a high place on the agenda in efforts to create greater racial justice in education–and advocates have made remarkable progress on the issue.

Exclusionary discipline, police in schools, and “zero tolerance” policies are being rethought and revoked across the country, and advocates have sparked a shift toward more restorative approaches.

Now, in a changing policy climate, powerful frames are needed to protect those hard-fought wins and expand the number of young people who benefit from them.

Reframing School Discipline: A Strategic Communications Playbook by The Frameworks Institute ( is a timely update for the field. Download the guide.

It provides advocates with 12 framing strategies to expand the constituencies who understand and support reforms related to school climate. Its evidence-based recommendations include:

Stay in a collective action frame. School discipline reforms must consistently be framed as a shared responsibility with shared consequences. The sense of individualism runs deep in the American psyche, so advocates must take care to help the public move away from thinking that school discipline is a matter of concern only for children and their families. It impacts us all.

Unpack the chain of events that unfolds when children are removed from the classroom. By illustrating how exclusionary discipline negatively impacts students, advocates can direct the public away from default thinking that punishment works like a “dose of medicine” that leads to positive outcomes.

Talk about implicit bias. But don’t just name it; explain it. FrameWorks research shows that the public does not fully understand the role that race and racism play in creating educational disparities. Thus, simply naming the problem of disproportionate impact isn’t enough. Helping the public better understand implicit bias leads them to oppose exclusionary discipline and express a preference for more restorative approaches.

Advocates and communicators in the education, justice, and civil rights sectors can use these recommendations to challenge harmful policies, build support for reducing racial disparities in discipline, and cultivate awareness of alternative approaches such as restorative justice and trauma-informed schools.

Reframing School Discipline integrates the findings of new studies conducted with support from the Open Society Foundations Racial Equality Fund and incorporates insights from dozens of other FrameWorks studies, including projects on framing educational equity and juvenile justice reform.

About The Frameworks Institute. An independent nonprofit organization founded in 1999, FrameWorks has become known for its development of Strategic Frame Analysis ™, which roots communications practice in the cognitive and social sciences. FrameWorks designs, conducts, and publishes multi-method, multi-disciplinary communications research to empirically identify the most effective ways of reframing social and scientific topics.

Implicit Bias in the Presidential Debate

Original post

The presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Monday night was the most watchedpresidential debate in American history. Race was a prominent theme of the debate, as it has been the whole campaign. At one point, moderator Lester Holt asked Secretary Clinton if she “believed that police are implicitly biased against black people” and Clinton responded, “Implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police.”

Clinton is not the only prominent public official to recognize that implicit bias is a challenge for our nation. Last year, Justice Kennedy recognized the way in which “unconscious prejudice” contributes to inequality in a landmark decision involving the Fair Housing Act. And FBI Director Comey also publicly acknowledged the overwhelming research demonstrating the presence of widespread unconscious biases, and the way in which these biases may manifest in policing.

It bodes well that these scientific findings are making their way into our public discourse. However, their meanings and implications need to be carefully understood. Clinton was right that implicit bias is an issue that impacts all Americans, but does this mean that Americans are all secretly racist? Not at all.

Bias is not simply another word for racism. Bias represents an association between things. Everyone forms associations, a process that is simply part of being human. Even animals form such associations (think of Pavlov’s dog).

“Implicit” bias refers to associations that are not fully conscious. We could not survive if all our decisions were completely subject to the conscious mind. Because the mind processes so much information, the brain has evolved to look for short cuts. This is done by habituating many of the brain’s functions, letting the unconscious process large quantities of information through lumping data together in a streamlined, rapid fashion. While the conscious mind is slow and more deliberate, the unconscious is big and very fast.

Racial bias is not innate. The associations of the unconscious mind are largely formed by our environment, society, and culture. We are exposed to many images a day, by some accounts as many as 5,000. Certain images become paired in our unconscious mind. When two images appear repeatedly and frequently, the unconscious mind will connect them. These connections are largely environmental and do not need to be connected in actual fact. The unconscious does not make such distinctions. And these connections are built up over time, a process that happens largely without our conscious awareness, and without our conscious knowledge that we are using them to influence our reactions and behavior.

Through movies, music, news, and other cultural and social sources, our society has paired images of black men with drugs and guns. It does not matter to the unconscious that black people are factually no more likely to use drugs or guns then their white counterparts. Remember, facts are not necessary for implicit bias. The mere presence of cultural stereotypes between blackness and criminality will suffice. The unconscious will reach for the paired associations with the same ease that a commuter turns the corner upon reaching her or his street. Research by social scientist Jennifer Eberhardt from Stanford has shown that when people are exposed to a black face they can more easily and quickly identify a gun than a non-crime related image, even without their conscious awareness (Dr. Eberhardt was awarded a Macarthur genius grant for her research in this area).

These are not just individual issues, therefore our response should not be about individuals. What’s critical in the conversation around policing and implicit bias, as well as all Americans and implicit bias, is to understand that while implicit bias is not the same as racism, the results of implicit bias can still produce deeply racialized outcomes. Even if the conscious mind rejects racism, the unconscious may still hold biases. And these biases are even stronger when we are under stress.

Results based on these biases can undermine our conscious desire for fairness, but they are not insurmountable. There are things we can do to lessen bias, and knowledge and training both help. In the case of police, recognizing the role of implicit bias and providing sustained training to override those biases could save lives. Who could object to saving lives through such training?

Neuroscience is clear: bias is part of being human. Racialized consequences of harmful implicit biases are not. And the content and strength of particular biases are socially constructed. Understanding the role of implicit bias in our national psyche is something that does affect all Americans and having public conversations about implicit bias, including from the platform of our presidential debate, is both powerful and promising.

For more information about implicit bias, see the Perception Institute’s work on the Science of Equality, or visit Harvard’s Project Implicit.