Archives For Media Matters

focuses on being an informed consumer of media. Posted on Tuesdays

Who knew trying to find a set of state books could prove so disappointing. But  as I mentioned in my previous post , a promising candidate did not meet my standards so it won’t live on my shelves anytime soon. In other words, it failed the anti-bias test. Especially when I examined the visuals for stereotypes, tokenism or invisibility.

Two photographs out of nine were of African-Americans. They were both in the Jazz chapter. This struck me as cause for concern. If a child’s only association with the African-American population of Louisiana is with jazz, it can lead to stereotyping, or at best limiting one-dimensional view of their experience.

I want a child to appreciate the wonderful contributions that the African-American community has made to music.  But I want a more complex presentation so readers can understand and appreciate the diversity of African-American heritage.

In fact, I was also shocked that there were no photographs of Hurricane Katrina. A natural disaster, and the failure of government and its social structures can be a complicated topic to introduce to young readers. But omitting it is whitewashing a disturbing history from which we can all learn. And  those in the 9th ward who are still suffering must feel a state of disequilibrium when such a life-changing event is ignored in a possible text-book.

I worry about another unconscious message that a young reader can absorb. All the images in the chapter about playing are of white people. Why not have more visual diversity that reflects the actual population shown at play?

I hope the state books published in 2015 will do a better job of an equitable presentation of the richness of all life experiences.

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It is embarrassing to confess that my school library collection has state books that are twenty years old. But I am more willing to admit that my collection is woefully out of date because publishers are still publishing books that are filled with bias.

If in 2014 I can’t find an updated series that is inclusive in its representation and history, I’d rather keep my old ones.

lousiannaDuring my recent search for new state books, I was at first seduced by Children’s Press’s (an imprint of Scholastic) Blast Off Readers. It offered some compelling features for the budding researchers in my school. I liked that it had:

  • A table of contents
  • An index
  • Useful and interesting topics including history, the land, landmarks, wildlife, food, festivals, work, play, and fast facts
  • An up-close map of the state, with some major cities, and surrounding states
  • An insert map of where the state is located within the U.S.
  • Attractive photographs
  • A clean and simple appealing lay out (so many books have confusing or cluttered design.
  • It had a nice balance of text to visuals.
  • Clearly presented text which wasn’t so simple that it didn’t say much and not too complex for my younger students.

I was ready and excited to blast off with the series. But then I was saddened and even a bit disgusted to I realize the series did not stand up to the anti-bias test.

In fact, I hadn’t even officially run it through my checklist. Yet flipping through the Louisiana book I was struck by how few photos of African Americans were included.

Louisiana’s population is approximately 60% white so having 2 photos of African Americans out of 9 photographs or drawings of people is almost not egregious. However, one of the two photos is a small insert (eve though the caption does give credit to Louis Armstrong for being one of the most famous jazz musicians of all time).  The other photo of a jazz band in New Orleans has some of the African American musicians but several of them are in the gutter of the book and therefore the visual focus of the photo is of the Caucasian audience.

Why is this a big deal you make ask?  Because I worry about what conclusions children are unconsciously drawing. I am guessing that they are probably picking up some of the same messages the publishers, designers, writers etc. are unconsciously perpetuating.

(At least I hope they are unaware of the impact of their choices.)

So I started to closely examine the book and put it through my anti bias check list.  Such scrutiny is more than one posting so I will share my findings on Thursday.