Monday, June 30, 2014

The Use and Abuse of the Term Bias

I set a goal for myself this month to match my published word count from last July, about 9000 words. Rather than write a few lengthy posts, I am going to try to publish short posts each day. If necessary, I will linger on certain topics and themes for a few days, so that I can dig deeper.

Today I reread Sean Lang’s essay ‘What is bias?’. I originally found the article posted online, but I haven’t been able to access it anymore. Luckily, I did print a copy. (I am pretty sure that I have discussed this text before. I will go back and link to that post.)

Lang points out that the term bias is often used by teachers and assessment creators. The frequency that the term is used and the way the term is used is particularly troubling to Lang. In far too many contexts, it appears, the message sent to students is that bias is something that some sources possess and others do not. The message that many students seem to internalize is that biased sources are to be identified and discarded.

Lang spends at least three pages dissecting this fundamentally misguided view of historical source analysis.

I am writing this post without the text in front of me. So, in no particular order, here are some of the points that I took away from my reading of this text. (I will focus on this text for the next few posts).  

When you examine how students and teachers use the term bias, they are basically talking about point of view.

The term bias is almost always used pejoratively, as if it is something to be avoided. Is there a substantive difference between bias and point of view? Lang does not think so, though many who use the two terms appear to.

Since there does not appear to be a difference between the two terms, looking for unbiased sources amounts to looking for sources devoid of point of view. If the source has been created by someone, we know, it is shaped by that author, in obvious and subtle ways. This is point of view. And bias, or point of view, is the human imprint.

So rather than asking students *if* a source is biased, as if there is chance it is not, we should ask students a question, such as the following: What are the author's biases and what does this information reveal about the period of time we are studying? 

Tomorrow: Are biased sources inherently unreliable? No. Is bias the same as distortion? No.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Some historical thinking sentence starters

This is an attempt to construct some sentence starters that help to scaffold historical thinking, reasoning. In the comments, please suggest others or revisions to mine. In addition, once I am satisfied with the list, I will try to categorize the sentence starters.

1. Based on this evidence, it appears that_________________________.

2. This statement reveals (suggests) that _____________________________.

3. We must consider these words in the larger context of ___________________________.

4. When placed into context, this passage takes on a different meaning. Now we see that ______________________________________.
5. When we compare this text to _______________(another text), we see that a tension exists between _________________ and ______________________.

6. Internally, there are some tensions evident in this text. For example, ________________________________. 
7. This text must be placed into a larger context. That context is ________________________. In light of this context, we can assert that _________________________________.

-If we do not take these words literally, then we can take these words to suggest that ____________________________.

8. This source tells us about __________________________.
9. This story/account is told from the perspective of ____________________.
10. The creator of this source appears to be sympathetic to the idea that ___________________.
11. The author created this source in order to ___________________________________. He expected it would be read by _________________________.
12. I am reading this source with the following question(s) in mind:________________________________________________________
13. This source reveals how people thought about ___________________________
14. This source provides some insight into the nature of __________________________.
15. Before reading this source (excerpt), you should know that at the time this source was created ______________________________.
16. This source is a response to __________________________________.
17. The author of this source was ______________________. Some of the preexisting ideas, assumptions that this person had were ___________________________, which would have shaped how he saw the events he witnessed.
18. The author of this source stood to benefit from _________________________.
19. This source triggers the following emotional responses in me _____________________________. (Are these the  emotions the author was trying to elicit?)
20. The ideas contained in this text can be corroborated when juxtaposed against ___________________________________ (another text).
21. Are the actions depicted in this text accurate? How do we know?
22. This source tells us something about _________________________________________.

Impt to consider
Who wrote the document?
Who read the document?
Having read the document, how do I feel about it?
Having read the document, what are we to make of it? Is it reliable? If so, in what ways?

*Many of these sentence starters have been pulled from @thathistorian's podcasts, where he models historical thinking and source work.

Some other big ideas to consider/notes to myself...
Our creations/artifacts both reflect AND shape how we think.
Stereotypes both reinforce and shape ideas (often damaging) about groups.
Meaning needs to be decoded.