Sunday, April 15, 2012

Understanding Bias

Yesterday as I meandered the paths of the Bayard Cutting Arboretum with my husband and my eleven year old son, we got into a conversation about bias and how it’s important when you read to be aware of biases.  This word was new for my son and my husband and I both tried to give him examples but without something tangible, he was curious but lost.  He didn’t quite get what we were saying.

Fast forward to this morning when Newsday ran an article with this headline:

 After reading this tragic story, I called my son in to take a look.  When he finished reading, I asked him what he thought.  He gave me that blank stare that told me that he didn’t quite get what I was getting at so I asked him if we remembered how we were talking about bias. 

He nodded. 

I asked him to go back up to the headline and reread it, this time thinking about what the biases of the writers of this article might be.  What did he think they wanted us to know about this car accident?

He looked again and said, “That a kid on drugs killed his two friends.”

This is when the lightbulb turned on.  His eyes grew wider and he said, “Wait a minute.  In the article it said he had a taken a prescription drug.” He got out his finger and reread the part of the article that said, “Police said a blood test confirmed that Smith was impaired by a prescription drug, which they declined to identify.  Smith told deputies he had a legal prescription.”   He narrowed his eyes and began to think out loud.  “This headline makes us believe that the driver was irresponsible, like he did a bad thing and because he did that, now his friends are dead.  But, from the information in this article, it’s not like he was out snorting cocaine or something.”

We went on to talk about bias and how perhaps, in reporting about accidents involving young drivers, the writers’ bias was to make assumptions that they happen because kids were acting irresponsibly.  While this may be the case with the driver in this particular accident, the facts reported here do not support that conclusion.  

In teaching children to read closely, we need to introduce them to the idea of bias.  Identifying bias means prompting students to think as much about what isn’t written on the page as it requires looking at what is written on the page.  

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