Sunday, December 22, 2013

Source Work and Bias

This week I read two essays that I highly recommend to all history teachers. The first was by Keith Barton. He discusses common misconceptions among teachers about the use of primary sources in the classroom. The other piece by Sean Lang asks the following question: What is bias?
Rather than try in a single blog post to tackle many of the important ideas contained in these two pieces, I’ll discuss each piece in a series of blog posts.

Before exploring Lang's text, let's think a little bit about the concept of bias.

I grew up in Philadelphia and was an avid Phillies and Eagles fan. Like many local fans, I always enjoyed listening to Phillies and Eagles games broadcast by our home announcers, Harry Kalas and Merrill Reese. In fact, when games were nationally televised, I would turn down the tv audio and turn on the radio, so that I could hear the home announcers while watching the television broadcast. Unfortunately, the radio feed was always slightly ahead of the video. 

Why did who called the game matter?

It mattered to me because I wanted to experience the bias of these announcers. That's not to say that they didn't accurately describe the game. But variables such as inflection, word choice, and emotions were all clearly aligned with my personal sympathies. There could be no doubt that these announcers were performing their jobs while simultaneously rooting for the home team. And I liked that.

One of Lang's core ideas is that bias is ubiquitous. It's not something that some sources contain and others lack.

When we talk about bias, we are talking about how an individual’s account contains evidence of that person’s views, values, and assumptions. In other words, his or her perspective or worldview.

Bias doesn't ruin a source. It is the marrow within a source, containing meaning about the time period, as well as the creator of the source.  

What is bias? Bias is a person’s preference or tendency in one direction over another. Our biases come from a variety of sources and, in many instances, we are not wholly aware of them.

A simple rule applies to bias: If a source is man made, it contains bias, evidence of the creator's perspective. His unique imprint is left on the source.

A history teacher who tries to teach an unbiased view of the past is trying to do the impossible.

More to come....

 Link---> etymology of the word bias


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