Category Archives: social studies

I am a biased teacher

Interesting conversation started yesterday in #sschat on Twitter started by a question from Jamie Josephson:

by David Shankbone

Some people see #OccupyWallStreet as undetermined in importance and too politically biased to discuss or promote. This turned into a somewhat heated discussion about the role of person politics in the classroom. It is a complicated question. On the one hand, I do not believe it is our job as educators to teach children a specific political agenda such as who to vote for. On the other hand we do teach children about morality and many things in history and current events are clearly wrong.

I may be in the minority now days but I still believe that some things are morally wrong. My personal beliefs stem from my religious faith which I never try to use with students. But I believe that society does hold many actions as wrong that are universally agreed upon regardless of the reasons why (religious, human rights, good of society, etc).

Therefore I think that teachers have a responsibility to teach that some things are clearly wrong. For example, slavery, human rights abuse, murder, genocide, corruption, racism, and theft. There are also many subjects that are open to debate as to their morality: abortion, stem-cell use, just war, and cloning to name a few.   Although I have strong opinions about these subjects as well, I would not push my “agenda” onto students. I would present facts of both sides of these issues and let students decide for themselves.

Some ideas may be hard to decide which camp they fall into as this seems to be determined by societal norms. For example women rights would not be considered important in some countries where genital mutilation is still widely practiced. Gay marriage is still a very controversial subject in the United States. So whose role is it to decide which camp controversial things fall into? I would argue that teachers should make this decision in light of their community that they teach in.

Many social studies teachers argue that no politics (personal or any outside agenda) should enter the classroom to influence students. I think that they are lying to themselves. First of all teachers influence students by the resources that they choose to use or not use. I plan to have students look at these charts about the reasoning behind #occupywallstreet. I also plan to have them search the hashtag on Flickr and see what messages they find. Just by choosing this resource I am influencing the conclusions that students will come to. I feel it is more honest to let students know your view point and feel free to disagree with it than to pretend that you do not have one. Students are not stupid and recognize us as experts on events and they know that we have an opinion. I see no value in hiding it from them.

If you use a textbook then you are really giving students a biased, European centric view of history.There is no such thing as an unbiased viewpoint. So rather than seek to be unbiased, teachers should teach students to identify bias and evaluate it. Biases do not automatically make something wrong or untrue. It is an important skill to name a bias and then be able to interpret whether or not the bias corrupts an idea or argument.

Of course we share our biases all the time. How many teachers present a balanced view with the positive side of Bin Laden, Hitler, slavery, or Nazism? No one does because these are outside of the United States and easy to condemn. On the other hand many schools still promote Christopher Columbus as a hero. Is there really a positive side to a greedy conqueror who maimed, killed, and enslaved?

Some historical people are more complicated such as Thomas Jefferson who wrote some of the most beautiful language of equality and human rights while at the same time was a slave owner who had an affair with one of his slaves. We should tell both sides of the story when they exist. But sometimes there really is no positive side to the history and one historical figure (or group) is the abuser and the other is the victim.

So bring some personal viewpoints into the classroom and let students know that you are against some things: corporate greed and abuse, unfair immigration laws, slavery, or human rights abuse. At the same time be prepared to play the devil’s advocate at times. Students already know that you are biased anyway. Let them analyze your biases and decide for themselves what they think is true, right, and just.