Reading into Racism: Bias in Children's Literature and Learning Materials

By Gillian Klein | Go to book overview
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Chapter 2

Negative bias—does it matter?

I sensed that a black skin invited images of a primitive world… This image was fuelled by nearly every schoolbook available in my schooldays that dealt with Africa. Mud huts, drums, nakedness, savagery were, I felt, images of Africa and of black people (in) many imaginations. I was petrified…I felt my cover had been broken.

Keith Ajegbo (from Black life in a white world in TLK no. 19)

Children’s literature is a form of mass socialisation into language and imagery as modes of representing the world and is probably second only to television in its power as a medium of learning the rules and expectations of society.

Phil Goodall (1982)

Subjective accounts, case studies and all the research suggest that racism, sexism and other forms of negative bias in books matter a great deal. There is, however, a view that what is in the books is no longer important, as books themselves are nowadays irrelevant to children.

As children grow older they read less. Media such as TV, films, cassettes, comics are a greater part of their lives. A recent study suggests that many children spend more hours in front of the television than they do in school. And is information technology not about to replace the book forever?


The role of children’s books

If we look, however, at how books—and journals—are used, it soon

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