Are we all biased?

Talking About Race: Bias

“If you are human, you are biased.” Howard J. Ross

Who writes the textbooks?  Who edits the trade books? Who are the “fact checkers” for educational materials that teachers use to teach history?  How do we know who we can trust for accurate information? What role do teachers play in educating students on understanding the importance of considering the source of their information? Ultimately, what role does bias play in history education?

As discussed in class and in the assigned homework, teachers are charged with the task of  not only teaching history, but more importantly creating critical thinkers. History is not merely a stagnant time-line or document for students to memorize. Instead,  history is a dynamic, living reflection of research, interpretation, and human experience, all of which are influenced by bias. In the classroom, students should be tasked with fact checking and considering the source of their information.  What bias might exist? From what perspective is the information derived? How does bias affect perspective?

Take a look below at the article, “BIAS” from The National Museum of African American History and Culture in connection with the Smithsonian Institute and think about how bias affects each and every one of us.  More importantly, think about how we, as educators, need to recognize our own biases and overcome them to become the positive influence we all strive to be in our students’ lives.

In the TEDx Talk below, Jerry Kang explains what the Harvard University Project Implicit Study reveals about human nature and society.

7 thoughts on “Are we all biased?

  1. The questions that you bring up in your first paragraph are questions that I have always asked about any informational textbook for any subject. The subject this question raise more concern with, however, is history. When you look at the list of authors of books, you notice that they are very educated, looking at where they went to college, for example. But how and why do we determine to let a few of billions of peoples write various histories into a single book. How do schools determine which history books to use, as I am sure there are many books that cover the same topics and events, but maybe worded differently. This leaves a lot of room for bias and what different individuals believe is important to include and how to include it.

    An important thing for educators to consider is that always keeping content to the book is not exactly the best way of teaching. It could be that the textbook assigned for the class is more persuasive towards some opinions and gives students a different idea of what really took place. To improve the process of teaching the content and having students reflect on the history and their experiences with related themes, teachers must take information from more than one source and generate a more reformed way to teach it to students, a way in which the information presented is impartial.

    Not only do we need to recognize the biases that authors and the books they write might bring, but we also need to recognize the biases that we have and implement in the classroom. The way I think about it, some biases for teachers are best described as assumptions. More generally, teachers must always be conscious of the fact that not all students learn the same. Some are more visual and others are more auditory, some need more times for the information to be explained than others, some students may need to put in little to a significant amount of more time in studying than others, etc. In addition to these learning barriers, there are barriers like impaired vision, color blindness, reduced hearing, and more that can prevent a student from doing as well as they wish they would or as well as they are capable of doing. We, as educators, must always try our best to be aware of any differences in students than can apply to their learning, and if we are able to intervene and help them, then it is best if we can do that sooner than later.

  2. Erika, thank you for this thoughtful post and prompt. You took me for a welcome trip down memory lane. In 2017, I spent a week at the NMAAHC in a course for teachers entitled Race and Racism in the classroom. Looking at the construct of race and implicit bias was a big piece of the work they did with us. No matter who you are or where you are raised, you have bias. As long as we recognize this and ensure these ideas don’t turn into stereotypes or generalizations that impact our teaching, we can make a difference. In many ways, our thoughts about children can become self-fulfilling prophecies. If we believe certain children aren’t capable, we don’t hold them to high expectations, so they don’t challenge themselves, and they may not learn as much. We can and must do better than this. Too often we take a deficit view of kids instead of one that assumes every child can learn. I think that’s really the starting point.

    Luis, historians are fond of saying history is written by the victors. That’s why primary sources are so important. They help us examine the stories we’ve been told for years in a different context. The quick summaries you see in textbooks don’t do any real justice to the lives and events they claim to describe. They are often one-sided and missing so much information.

  3. Great insights here!

    Yes, I am fully onboard with consciousness raising, teaching students to question who is writing the narrative, encouraging students to ask themselves who the narrative privileges. By doing so, we take up key questions of power, privilege and oppression, and we’re able to challenge the received histories of colonialism, slavery, race/racism in America, not to mention stories about gender, sexuality, class, religion, and nearly every other identity category.

    When I think about challenging bias in history I think about the work of people like Zinn and Chomsky or feminist theory like bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress. I’d love to hear some suggestions for resources for this kind of critique in the elementary school classroom. My family is very into Faith Ringgold’s picture books (this was my daughter’s introduction to the history of slavery), but I’m wondering what else I could add to my bibliography? Is there a Zinn reader for elementary school students?

    This website seems like it has a lot of resources:

    I also have to share a McSweeney’s piece I love that I’ve used when teaching adult learners. It’s satire, but it really gets to the heart of the brand of critique Chomsky and Zinn are famous for. Probably not right for elementary school, but older kids eat this stuff up because it’s super funny and makes them feel smart. The bit about Middle Earth’s pipe-weed economy gets me every time:

  4. This post really resonates with me! On a personal level, I have a responsibility to check my implicit and explicit bias to prevent further stereotyping. We live in a world of systemic injustice, and I need to recognize my innate privilege while actively striving for equity. Last semester, I read Jennifer Harvey’s Raising White Kids: Bringing up Children in a Racially Unjust America, which I highly recommend (applies to teaching, not just parenting). One practice the book focuses on is race conscious teaching rather than color blindness. In general, we must continue educating ourselves to combat inherent biases.

    As educators, it is important we do our research and choose inclusive materials for the classroom. We also have a responsibility to teach students how to analyze sources, fostering responsible citizens capable of critical thinking. In class, students should analyze both primary sources and textbooks for bias. To check for accurate information, we need to teach students to investigate primary sources and consider perspectives of all parties involved at the time of historical events (even those not overtly mentioned). In our readings, we learned that young students are more than capable of interacting with primary sources to determine perspective and reliability. This practice is crucial.

    Bias plays a HUGE role in history education. Curriculum and textbooks are politized and often deliberately exclude certain information, painting those in power (white men in particular) in an unfair positive light. Many important voices are often missing, and history in and out of the classroom has been traditionally whitewashed. However, I do not know the specifics. I would love to see graphics of statistically who contributes to textbooks (race, gender, socioeconomic status, age, job, political affiliation), where those textbooks come from, what those textbooks contain, etc. I know many textbooks come from Texas and that there has been controversy regarding the material chosen for certain books. I look forward to reading additional comments.

  5. Erika, thank you for being brave enough to address this. In the history of our society and our culture, textbooks and crucial literary history has deemed noteworthy material based on the philosophies of white affluent males and we’ve blindly went along with it for centuries. I am so grateful to be living in a time where (here comes our revolution/reaction discussion) we are witnessing both a reaction followed by a revolution in our world. We’ve witnessed and heard about the mistakes of our parents and their parents. We’ve read the history books and been appalled that we could even be the same human species as the monsters who did despicable things in the past. I am grateful to witness this generation deciding to say “no more” and “enough is enough.”
    Especially in the context of social studies and history, we must know the events of the past so we don’t risk repeating them in the present. This includes the bias that has ruled our literature, as Dr. Stohr mentioned, and especially our textbooks. Our textbooks provide a one-sided view of history and bring it upon themselves to determine which side is more important. We have to realize that we are all on the same side. We are all human, learning every day and growing into better versions of ourselves. By allowing this grace, we can heal the wounds left by bias and by ignorance. It starts with recognition, which has already happened, and then moves on to reaction, then finally revolution. It is up to us, especially as educators, to speak up about bias and injustice within our education system, and yes, our textbooks, to help our students enter society as graduates with empathy, compassion, openness and understanding.

  6. I want to start out by acknowledging that I am bias. By explicitly stating that I am bias, it will remind me to continue to question and learn from my biases in and out of the classroom. The questions you present are very similar to the questions I have. One question I have in addition to your questions above is are there resources for educators on how to identify personal biases during instruction?

    For my book response paper assignment in Foundations of Education class, I read Raising White Kids in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey. One important point Harvey mentions is that educators teach students about George Washington and slavery yet, as educators, we fail to provide the connection of the fact that George Washington owned slaves. Further, we teach students about George Washington and glorify him for being the first president of the United States instead of acknowledging that his character should be questioned. In other words, when educators teach the subject of history, it doesn’t always involve the honest truths, especially regarding who we teach students about.

    It is vital for us, as educators, to provide our students with honest teachings. The goals we want our students to meet is making connections and asking questions. Moreover, if I am teaching a lesson about George Washington and a student asks or states that Washington owned slaves, I will fully acknowledge and embrace those connections. And as students make these connections, they will better understand that it is acceptable to question what and why they are learning in history. Additionally, that I, as their teacher, am their ally in the fight for equity and justice.

    Erika, I really enjoyed your post, it was very insightful!

  7. Hi Erika, thank you for sharing about bias and its role in history. I think people are too caught up in the formality of history class to acknowledge and challenge the bias that plays a role in lessons, textbooks, and more. As we have seen in the media/online over the years, texts are often “whitewashed,” significant historical events are ignored or only show one side, and most recently, the ban on critical race theory in the classroom. As teachers, we may feel uncomfortable with the set of beliefs we are required to teach our students, some students may believe this information to be due to our own bias, and the full scope of history is lost.

    Generally, I think people see being biased as wrong and choose to live a life thinking they are never biased. But, just like the Smithsonian article suggests, everyone holds a bias in some regard, either unconsciously or knowingly. Bias does not always mean something negative, and if someone were to explicitly have a negative bias, there are ways to practice changing these thoughts. This article and the embedded TED talks help shed light on the truths of bias and how people can address their own and others.

    On a personal level, my continuous goal is to live my most unbiased and unjudgmental life. To do this, I need to keep addressing thoughts and feelings that may arise and try to work through why I feel a certain way; this goes for both implicit and explicit biases. I like to reflect on how everyone lives an entirely different life and were raised differently, it is ok to have different views, and I should not feel biased that my “x” is better than their “y.” Again, thank you for this post; it has left us with many tools and resources to look back at when confronting our own bias, the bias we see in the classroom, etc.

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