GRAPHIC BY AVA VARELL
History teachers face an important challenge: deciding who and what should be brought into the classroom. How they decide poses a problem, as history is susceptible to biases that can impact a student’s perception of the world.
The Social Studies department has different methods to prevent bias in the classroom and ensure that all groups and races of people throughout history are represented.
Many history classes use textbooks as the foundation of the class. According to U.S. History and African American Studies teacher Malcolm Cawthorne, while textbooks can be helpful to learning, they are prone to prejudice.
“They’re going to gloss over a lot and this is where you can find examples of bias. I point this out because textbooks typically represent a certain value system where only a certain point of view is valued,” Cawthorne said.
Learning early history solely through the Western lens can be a dangerous way to view history, according to Cawthorne.
“We talk about these Africans like they didn’t have money and they blew it and started selling each other off. Then we say these Europeans had fantastic thoughts. I think that’s incredibly problematic,” Cawthorne said.
School Within a School (SWS) history teacher Jen Martin said that teachers want to include all groups in the curriculum, but it is often difficult to find the resources to do so. She said that it would be beneficial for teachers to receive professional development training on how to find teaching materials that include the stories of more groups throughout history.
“A lot of students think teachers don’t believe in representation. That’s definitely not what it is. The district as a whole has a goal of wanting us to provide more representation, which is so good. Sometimes you need help figuring out how to do it and how to [teach] it well. I think the district could spend money training us to do it so that we do it well,” Martin said.
Like Martin, Modern World History teacher Sydney Hou said that she would like resources in order to expand the curriculum to different continents besides Europe.
“It’s hard when Asia is only represented by India, Japan and China and that Africa is only represented through the lens of colonization and then decolonization. I would love to expand those continents more to get a wider and more inclusive view of history,” Hou said.
Hou said that other teachers have shared student sentiments about wanting to learn more about current events that they can then relate to aspects of the curriculum.
“Last year U.S. history teachers heard from juniors that they feel that Asian American voices and stories and case studies should be more included, particularly with the current events that are happening and continue to happen,” Hou said.
Martin said that if classes are able to teach more perspectives, it could potentially lower bias in the classroom.
“We need to do a better job of discussing what kids have learned if they’ve gone through this district so we know where we should pick up each year from. For example, if we know they’ve learned the Revolution really well, then we can start with something later and then get further and get more perspectives taught,” Martin said.
Cawthorne said that the first step a teacher can take to ensure they teach the curriculum in a way where people are represented equally is to confront their own biases beforehand.
“If we don’t confront our biases, we know we will pick and choose what to teach,” Cawthorne said. “We do, we know what we’ll pick every time. And so, as a heterosexual cisgender male, I have to work to make sure I’m including women so that the young women in my class see examples of women who did great things. If people are not willing to work at that, to me, it’s just not okay.”