Archives For Bias

What world do your collections offer children?

That was the question I recently posed to librarians and other educators at the Massachusetts School Library Association Conference.

The workshop was specifically designed to help librarians examine their materials for bias and to give them the tools to build diverse collections.

But really all bookshelves, large or small, few or many, should be an inclusive representation of all the multiple ways of being.

There are four tools you need to build bookshelves that prepare children to be empathetic problem-solvers in a global world.

steps to build antibias

  1. IDENTIFY the audience or demographic.
  2. ANALYZE the collection /bookshelf for windows & mirrors, missing voices, and multiple perspectives.
  3. WEED out the Ds. These are books that are damaged, dated, don’t leave the shelf, and are discriminatory or stereotypical.
  4. GROW. Add books and other materials that provide windows & mirrors, that offer insights into many different experiences that show more than one view of a community. Scour resources that recommend inclusive, diverse, multicultural, and or anti-bias works. (Check back soon for an extensive but not exhaustive list to help you start).

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.

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.

In a few days my students will tumble through my library doors after a summer of reading stories elsewhere. Like many others I am eagerly preparing for a fresh new year.

I dust the library shelves, create book displays about sustainability, and finalize lesson plans for creating a second grade research project on bento boxes.

Then there is one more important step before I feel ready.  I pull out and study a checklist that I created for myself based on and inspired by the work I so admire at EdChange: Building Equitable and Just Schools, Communities and Organizations through Transformative Action.

So far, I haven’t been able to check anything off the list.  And I don’t expect to. This work is ongoing, though some of it is getting easier.

  1. Do I learn to pronounce each student’s full name correctly? No one should feel like they have to change his or her name to make it easier for me.
  2. Do I continually assess my bias, prejudice and cultural upbringing and how they influence my teaching practices and relations with my colleagues, students and their families?
  3. Do I consciously pay attention to my language and not use expressions which originated from inequities of power?
  4. Am I using materials that are unbiased? If not, do I use it as a teaching tool to help students analyze and recognize it?
  5. Do I help my students unpack the myth of color-blindness? Do I discuss why it is important to acknowledge differences, and not deny another person’s experience that has been shaped by their skin color?
  6. When an issue such as racism or classism comes up in the classroom, do I address it or shy away from it out of fear or ignorance? Neither is a good reason.
  7. Is my curriculum inclusive of a wide range of multiple perspectives all the time or just a token gesture especially during special months?
  8. Do I work toward equity for ALL underrepresented groups? Or for example do I strive for gender equity but not racial equity?
  9. Do I work towards equality or equity?  Do I try and give everybody the same thing which may not be what everyone needs or do I try and change the disparity in access for an underrepresented or disenfranchised person?
  10. Am I constantly working towards understanding my whiteness and the privileges it gives me?

Wish me a good fall and support in accomplishing these goals. May they be useful to you too.

I just arrived in Los Angeles to attend my first ever SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) conference. Yeah!
As I traveled from one coast to the other, watching the country pass beneath the belly of the plane, I remembered the last time I changed coasts to live in San Francisco. The time when I learned a core-shocking lesson.
Teaching Social Studies in the Bay area revealed an ugly truth. I had reached my mid twenties, and had never heard about the U.S government’s internment of Japanese Americans during World War II or that Ellis island wasn’t the only port of entry. How had I missed the fact, that if you were of Chinese decent, Angel Island held your ancestors’ stories of arrival not the New York icon of European immigration.?
Medical Exams on Angel Island

Medical exams on Angel Island, San Francisco, Ca

I was appalled at my ignorance. Especially as I had received the top mark on the Advanced Placement exam in U.S. history and had furthered my studies at a reputable college.Then it dawned on me. I had unwittingly grown up with a Eurocentric understanding of history. Unbeknownst to me I had received a biased education.
Discovering that gold nugget and appreciating how I had to unpack my world view and fill it with multiple perspectives wasn’t easy. But I began to see importance of windows and mirrors. As a white female who was born in Britain, raised in Bermuda, and educated on the East coast, the history that I was taught reflected me.
So I never noticed that I was missing windows. There was no disconnect between who I was and what I was learning. But I can only imagine what it must have been like to take the AP exam as a Japanese American in San Francisco!
As a library teacher back again on the East coast, I am doing my best to make sure that I provide my daughter and the children I teach, with many different windows into the world. But after San Francisco where my eyes were opened, I especially include Asian American windows and the uncomfortable history that was swept under the rug in my own schooling.
I traveled cross country to learn about my narrow view of the world. Not everyone can. So as parents and educators it’s our job to make sure we give children as many windows and as broad a horizon as we can, one story at a time!
 Photo credit: national archives