Teacher tricks number 2: Bias: like a liver, everyone's got one
I got the nicest complement from several of my students today. They said that they thought I was the least-biased teacher in the social studies department.
I was honestly touched. They're wrong of course, but I still was touched. Bear with me, now, while I explain.
A few weeks ago, I was called into another class where a discussion was going on regarding teacher bias. The sub in the class was a retired colleague of mine who adores stirring things up. He excels at classes that are dependent upon discussion, and then he probes and challenges students' assumptions and knee-jerk reactions. They may get heated up at first, but later they realize that they have been forced to actually consider their positions. It's an ancient teaching technique-- I believe a fellow named Socrates (pronounced "Sock-rat-ees," NOT "Sow-krayts," if you please) was a master at it back in the day, REALLY "Old-School." Of course, this teaching method did not end happily for him, which is why I personally do not believe it to be a wise way to conduct one's business, but to each his or her own, I always say. At least the students in the class couldn't get their hands on any hemlock anytime soon, so I guess my friend is safe, at least for the time being.
Anyway, the kids in that class asked if teachers should be biased. I answered that that was not the correct question. The correct question should be, "Should teachers force their biases upon their students?" And my answer is "Absolutely NOT."
Here's the thing: back at the turn of the century, many historians believed they could write objective history and strip all agendas or biases from their work. Just the facts, Ma'am. The Sergeant Joe Friday school of historicism.
One of my young colleagues walked by, and they asked him the same thing. "Teachers should not reveal their biases in the classroom," he opined (see?). "I keep my opinions to myself when I teach."
Those Progressive historians (and my young friend) were kidding themselves. Everyone is biased. One's biases and preferences inform a thousand small decisions one makes every day. There is no such thing as a non-biased person. I am sure MYF doesn't realize it-- because he honestly believes that he doesn't opine while in front of a class full of semi-eager young minds.
But he does.
The KEY is to recognize one's own biases, and compensate for them so that one presents a balanced picture to allow one's students to truly examine what they do or do not believe, and evaluate for themselves. I know my biases, and I know my tendencies. I deliberately and continuously labor to compensate for them when I am teaching. It helps that I hold mostly moderate view-- which doesn't mean I don't have opinions (Hahahaha! That's a laugh!), it just means that I decide different issues upon their own merit rather than through slavish adherence to some overarching, externally imposed label. For instance, I am certainly opposed to illegal immigration, but I'm not an advocate of slamming the torch of Lady Liberty across the harbor, either, as long as people follow the law. We all came here from somewhere else, after all. But illegal immigration depresses wages and allows the illegal immigrants to be unable to demand equitable treatment from their employers.
But when we discuss immigration in class, I present both sides of the argument. I don't pretend there isn't an argument, however-- that's ridiculous. The two sides of every story don't need to be sensationalized: just present them, answer any questions the kids have, and get out of the way and let the students think about it for themselves.
So, yes, it is important to me that I never try to present just one side of the story. But it's dishonest not to continually examine yourself, whether liberal, moderate, or conservative, and make sure you are really being "fair and balanced" in the classroom.