Unbiased Teaching

Teaching social studies inherently makes teachers cover some pretty controversial/sensitive topics. These can include Civil Rights, slavery, colonization, the Trail of Tears etc. When teaching these types of topics there are certain ways that teachers will create a biased narrative regarding the subject they are teaching. This is examined in Diana Hess’s How Do Teachers’ Political Views Influence Teaching about Controversial Issues? In this article she examines four major mistakes that teachers make when teaching about these hot topics. The first one of these is “Denial.” Hess explains denial as a teacher denying a topic is controversial in the first place. The example used was the death penalty and just explains that a teacher who may have their opinion set, like banning capital punishment, and teach that opinion as a fact. Knowing this allows me to be able to reflect on some topics that I may feel strongly about, and how to step back and realize that both sides are important.

The next mistake is showing a particular view on a subject “privilege.” What this means is that the teacher may favor a certain view on a subject, and only expose the students that share that view. While this may seem like providing sources to allow the students to make their own choice, this also leads to promoting a certain view over the other. This mistake can lead to “accidentally” indoctrinating your students.

The third mistake is known as “avoidance.” This mistake stems from a teachers fear to cover a certain controversial topic, or there strong views about the topic. The example used in the article was Roe v. Wade. Many teachers recognize Roe v. Wade as a “landmark” case, yet choose not to cover it. This is because they feared how the community would react, or their beliefs “prevented” them from teaching it. Reading about this mistake has led me to realize that even if a topic is controversial, it needs to be discussed so that students are exposed to that type of dialogue. It’s important for social studies teachers to teach how to have an open dialogue between the students and their peers.

The fourth mistake is “balance.” Balance is when a teacher tries to hard to provide both narratives for a subject. I don’t really agree that this is a huge mistake, as I think this is a great way to promote critical thought, yet do realize the problems mentioned in the article. The article mentions that trying to do a balanced lesson can also lead to inherent biases being included, or being thought to be included. This also leads teachers to make the avoidance mistake as they fear they will fall into this trap.

I think knowing these four main mistakes will be extremely helpful to me in the future. I believe that critical thought is an important tool to be taught within social studies classrooms, and controversial topics are a great, yet risky, way to accomplish this. Knowing these mistakes will help me know what mistakes are commonly made, and help me reflect on how to avoid them.