Empowering Accurate Learning: Tips for Teaching Bias in History

Illusion drawing of duck v. rabbit main

What is Bias Analysis?

Bias analysis is the process of examining potential preconceptions that may have influenced the interpretation and telling of historical events. It involves looking at a range of sources and perspectives when researching an event and considering how certain points of view. Bias analysis is essential to understanding history and providing a fair and accurate portrayal of events to students. Following are some ideas on how to actually implement it.

Bias When Teaching Social Studies

Bias analysis is an important topic to consider when teaching history. It can be difficult to recognize potential biases in the past, but it is essential to ensure that students receive a fair and accurate portrayal of events. 

Current events often serve as examples of how bias can affect the way we perceive and interpret history. As educators, it is our responsibility to be aware of any potential biases and examine them objectively in order to provide an unbiased perspective on historical topics.

It’s important to ask ourselves questions like: Is there something in the narrative that could lead me to believe a certain view or interpretation of the events? 

How did the author’s culture or background affect their ability to interpret what happened? And are there any competing interpretations or points of view worth considering?

Considering Bias as One Factor of Planning Lessons

By recognizing possible biases, we can adjust our curriculum and discussion topics accordingly in order to use multiple perspectives and sources when providing context for why certain things happened. 

This also allows us to give meaningful insight into why people make certain decisions today that may have been shaped by past experiences. 

General Examples of Teaching Bias in History

Bias analysis can be applied when exploring a variety of topics and events. 

For example, when researching the civil rights movement of the 1960s, it is important to consider multiple sources and points of view. This includes looking at how each source might have been influenced by its author’s personal biases or cultural values. 

Another example could be analyzing media coverage of particular events or periods in history to determine if any certain group was represented differently than others, or if certain information was intentionally omitted from the coverage. 

By examining potential biases, we can gain more insight into why and how events unfolded as they did, which can help us make better-informed decisions today.

Concrete Examples

Let’s look at bias during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Two documents you can use with your students are Krushchev’s Letter to President Kennedy and Fidel Castro’s Letter to Krushchev:

Students can first identify the different points of view in the letters. But let’s dig deeper. Why do the 2 men see the crisis in a different light?

Krushchev was a veteran of World War 2. He fought on the front lines. Krushchev had experienced the horrors of war firsthand.

“Any fool can start a war.”

Nikita Krushchev

On the other hand, you have Fidel Castro, a revolutionary. He studied Marx and believed armed resistance was often necessary. 

His personality was very different from Krushchev’s. Even as a young boy Castro had extreme tendencies. He was expelled from boarding school for being too disruptive. He once bet a schoolmate five dollars that he could drive his bicycle into a wall. He was knocked unconscious and hospitalized, but he won the five bucks!

Now students are understanding not just differing points of view, but the mindset that shaped them.

Another Example: The Civil War and Secession

When teaching about the Civil War students can analyze the secession issue through the eyes of President Lincoln (which is where many lesson end) but also that of Jefferson Davis.

Students can read part of Lincoln’s inaugural address about secession:

“Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other; but the different parts of our country cannot do this.
I hold that, in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the union of these States is perpetual….It follows….that no State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void; and that acts of violence, within any State or States, against the authority of the United States, are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances. I, therefore, consider that, in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is unbroken.”

Here’s Jefferson Davis’ speech before the Missippi Legislature (1858)

“Whether by the House or by the People, if an Abolitionist be chosen President of the United States, you will have presented to you the question of whether you will permit the government to pass into the hands of your avowed and implacable enemies… such a result would be a species of revolution by which the purposes of the Government would be destroyed and the observance of its mere forms entitled to no respect. In that event, in such manner as should be most expedient, I should deem it your duty to provide for your safely outside the Union of those who have shown the will, and would have acquired the power, to deprive you of your birthright and reduce you to worse than the Colonial dependence of your fathers.”

Once again, students can dig into the background of both men to better understand their stance.

Visuals and Bias

There are many political cartoons and posters in favor of women’s suffrage. This portion of a pamphlet created by an organization against suffrage gives real insight as to why anyone would be against the right women’s suffrage.

The cartoon below also sheds light on why women want the vote. What are the reasons for the contrasting biases?

Bias in the Media

The media is a great place to analyze bias. Following are 2 channels’ coverage of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court case that overturned Roe v. Wade. Here is Fox News’ coverage:

Compare that to the CNN coverage:

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, by consciously looking at bias analysis when teaching history, we obtain a more accurate picture of what has taken place over time. 

This allows us to make better-informed choices about current issues and events, helping students become more informed citizens who are able to make their own judgments on contemporary matters with greater accuracy.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.