Students investigate alternative perspectives in textbooks and other historical sources by rewriting an account dealing with Aboriginal-European relations based upon the perspective of an unrepresented group and then by creating a balanced account of the event.
See Offering a Fair-minded Account (Modelling the Tools) for instructions on teaching the tools to identify bias, recognize an opposing perspective and create a balanced or fair-minded account.
Introduction to capitalist, industrialist or imperialist worldviews
To prepare for the activity, select a historical incident that arises out of capitalist, industrialist or imperialist worldviews; e.g., Doctrine of Discovery of 1493, Royal Proclamation of 1763, Indian Act of 1867.
Note: According to the Doctrine of Discovery of 1493, non-Christian nations could no longer own land in the face of claims made by the Christian nation states. The Indigenous peoples of these lands were to be placed under the tutelage and guardianship of those Christian nation states that claim to have "discovered" their lands (see References).
Remind students that while some people believe that the imperial powers were unfair to Indigenous peoples, others think that in some respects Indigenous peoples benefited from contact with imperial powers; e.g., technology. Consequently, accounts that are wholly negative or positive about the impact of imperialism on Indigenous peoples may not represent a fair-minded account. It is also important that students realize the Europeans treated Indigenous peoples differently. Since students are asked to examine only one historical account, ensure that they have an opportunity to share their findings so that the contrasts in various relations become apparent to students.
Locate a secondary account of an incident that presents a Eurocentric perspective. Recent textbooks tend to offer more balanced perspectives, so it may be more effective to select dated textbooks formerly used in elementary and secondary schools.
Summarize the event
Set the context for the event by showing a visual, if available, or by providing an oral summary of the event. Next, ask students to prepare a 5Ws chart to summarize the main details of the event.
You may want to adapt one of the charts and strategies in Reporter's Log (Support Material) to structure and assess this activity.
Analyze the historical worldview in the account of the event
After students have some context for the event, discuss with the class what makes this event an example of historical globalization or imperialism. Invite students to imagine that the publisher has decided to reissue the book with revisions that include an alternative perspective of the event.
Introduction to concept: Point of view
Discuss the notion of point of viewall observations and opinions are, of necessity, from a point of view, i.e., originate from a perspective or set of presuppositions or values, and various sides can see the same event differently.
Focus the discussion by looking for indicators of a point of view in terms of two questions:
- What is the tone of the account? Which groups are treated sympathically? Are loaded words used?
- What are the omissions in the account? Which group's story is presented? Whose story seems to be ignored or dismissed?
Invite students to note all the indicators of the point of view from which the account is written.
Point of view exercise: Write an account of a school day
To prepare students to rewrite a historical account, invite them to practise by writing a short description of what happened during one of their classes. Next, ask students to rewrite the account from the teacher's point of view.
Rewrite a historical account from an alternative perspective
Ask students to rewrite a version of the account based upon an alternative perspective; e.g., First Nations' perspective. Provide background information to assist students in developing this alternative perspective.
Ask students to use three criteria:
- the details are accurate (students do not change details of events)
- the account is entirely based upon another group's perspective
- the account is a plausible interpretation of how people from this group might view the event.
Remind students to be mindful of the tone of language and omissions that might be expected in an account that is presently solely from one group's perspective.
Share the rewritten accounts
Invite students to share their rewritten accounts.
As a whole class, discuss the issue of which version of the event we should accept. Help students to recognize that each version is biased because each version imposes one perspective over anotherit doesn't matter whether the version is favourable to "our" or "their" side; neither version tries to tell the whole story.
Introduction to concept: Balanced or fair-minded account
Introduce the idea of a balanced or fair-minded accountwhere the observations and opinions attempt to give fair consideration to alternative perspectives on the question; i.e., not be biased, not be determined solely by the interests or preferences of the individual offering the observation or opinion. Explain that a balanced point of view attempts to impartially consider alternative perspectives before arriving at a final opinion. Point out that being fair-minded does not mean that the account must be neutral or "straight down the middle." If the Eurocentric perspective is manifestly unfair, then a fair-minded account would recognize this quality, but only after presenting all the pros and cons of the evidence and after trying to understand why Europeans might have acted in this unjust way.
Write a fair-minded account that includes an alternative perspective
Ask students to use both versions to write a fair-minded account of the event.
To prepare students, help them identify criteria by asking "What would a fair-minded account sound like?"
Indicators of fair-minded accounts include these criteria:
- expression of recognition and fair treatment of conflicting perspectives;
- use of descriptive, impartial language
- inclusion of positive or negative judgements that are also clearly sensitive to the opposing points of view.
Assign students to discuss critically their individual accounts in small groups and then share their results with the whole class. Evaluate responses by looking for evidence of fair-mindedness using the criteria listed above.
To meet diverse learning needs, you may want to invite students to consult additional sources to find other points of view that might be offered and to discover if new information causes them to reconsider their own fair-minded account of the incident.
Extension: Revise other accounts into fair-minded accounts
Encourage students to look for other passages in textbooks and newspapers for evidence of obvious bias. Ask students to rewrite these passages based upon an opposing perspective and then develop a fair-minded account. Encourage students to appreciate the need to consult additional sources to supplement the information presented to them.
This lesson is adapted from Critical Challenges in Social Studies for Junior High Students, edited by Roland Case, LeRoi Daniels and Phyllis Schwartz. Richmond: BC The Critical Thinking Consortium, 1999, pp. 109117.