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

By Gillian Klein | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Issues in World Studies

They forgot to ask my name

And called me Negro

Henry Dumas

Bias, particularly racial bias, was identified from the outset as being especially characteristic of children’s books on history and geography. Until the 1950s, it was virtually inescapable in any textbook and many of the examples that researchers quote come still from updates of old standbys, such as S. Crawford’s Man Alone (Longman 1970). Even the title is indicative of the approach: it is true too of many geography and history textbooks that women are invisible. They have little place in recorded history unless they were the rare figures of power. Geography textbooks tend to feature two or three men to every one woman in their photographs of the people of the country. And yet, as the United Nations Report of 1980 stated: ‘Women constitute half the world’s population, perform nearly two thirds of its work hours, receive one fourth of the world’s income, and own less than one hundredth of the world’s property.’

Sexist bias in history and geography books is really a separate study, and a non-male-oriented, non-hierarchical model for non-sexist and anti-sexist materials needs to be developed alongside the non-racist model illustrated in Diagram 4 at the end of this Chapter. Readers are referred to a model of this approach by Carol Adams (1982) Ordinary lives: a hundred years ago (Virago), and to the excellent feminist studies available, particularly: Adams, C. and Laurikietis, R. (1976) The gender trap: a closer look at sex roles; Book 3 Messages and Images (Quartet); and Spender, Dale (1982) Women of Ideas (and what men have done to them) (Routledge & Kegan Paul).

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