Here’s disturbing news from researchers at Yale University: Teachers may be more inclined to expect bad behavior from black preschoolers–especially black boys–than from white preschoolers. As reported recently in a Washington Post article found here, in a recent study over 130 preschool teachers were asked to view video clips of young children in classrooms and were told to look for “challenging behavior”. While scanning the video clips, looking for the problem kids, the teachers spent more time watching the black children, and the most time watching the black boys.

According to lead researcher and Yale child psychology professor Walter S. Gilliam, this research suggests that teachers expect problems from black children, and especially black boys. It’s a finding that shows how deeply rooted racial biases are, he said, and indicates that teachers need training to confront and unravel the biased perceptions they often don’t even realize they have.

“Implicit biases do not begin with black men and police. They begin with black preschoolers and their teachers, if not earlier,” he said. “Implicit bias is like the wind: You can’t see it, but you can sure see its effects.”

Black children accounted for 19 percent of all preschool students in 2013-2014, but they made up 47 percent of those who received suspensions, according to federal civil rights data. In an effort to determine explanations for this disparity, the researchers also gave these preschool teachers a story to read about a misbehaving young student and asked about whether the student deserved punishment, and if so, how severe. Some of the teachers were told the student’s name was DeShawn or Latoya, others heard that the child’s name was Jake or Emily.

Researchers found that teachers’ responses differed by their races, but not in the way you might think: White teachers went easier on children they perceived as black, while black teachers were harsher on children they perceived to be black. What is that about? According to the researchers, this suggests that white teachers see black preschoolers as more likely to misbehave, so they don’t see a black child’s misbehavior as severe. Hmm. Not sure how this explains the large disparity in punishment. But it does suggest that some teachers may not be looking at all of their precious preschool students through the same positive lens.

Let’s stay mindful of this possibility as we guide our little ones, especially our boys, through the preschool experience. Listen carefully to any preschool teacher reports of your son misbehaving. Be sure to ask detailed questions about the teacher’s concerns. Is this behavior you have seen before with your son? If it is, have a constructive conversation with the teacher about how they generally handle this type of behavior. If not, you may want to ask others (assistant teachers, the school head) to monitor and weigh in on the situation.

Thanks to GCP Mom Nancy Redd for the heads up on this subject!