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"Unbiased" is Tricky. Fairness is Key.

May 18, 2010

Tags: hakim, joy hakim, bias, fairness, textbooks

I sit alone in a home office-which overlooks a pond and trees and Colorado mountains, so I’m not complaining—but I don’t have as much contact with my readers as I used to have, and I often wonder how they are reacting to what I write.

So I was delighted with two emails I got this week.

One described my books as “unbiased.” Which is nice to hear, except that I, as a writer, know there is no such thing as an unbiased book. Even those dreadfully dull textbooks (which aren’t written by real authors, mostly they are put together by editorial ghosts) are the product of choices. No one can tell it all, so by necessity we bring our backgrounds and our purpose into whatever we write.

I’ve tried to explain that to my young readers as a way to encourage them to read more than one source on any subject they want to know in depth. “No one has a lock on truth,” I say. In a fifth grade I visited a child was puzzled, “Where can you find the truth?” he asked. Before I could answer, one of his classmates shouted out, “On the Internet.”

Ah me! I trust they will learn.

But back to the emails. Here’s what one said: “I was so excited to read about your set of A History of US. It is extremely hard to find an unbiased history book that does not portray Muslims in a politically negative way. I have Aristotle Leads the Way and we absolutely love it and recommend it to all of our homeschooling friends. Thank you for your dedication to the unbiased education of our children.”

Muslims are just beginning to make their mark on America, so future historians will have more to write on the subject than I do, but maybe what my correspondent is saying is that I try to be fair. And I do. Fairness is the key to America’s story; it’s a concern that plays well with young readers. Every kid, especially those who have siblings, understands fairness.

That fairness theme rings through our great founding documents. Great Britain wasn’t being fair to us, says the Declaration of Independence, so of course we had to rebel. My favorite founding document is the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which is all about that basic practice of fairness; religious freedom (see From Colonies to Country if you aren’t familiar with that brilliantly innovative political document).

The other email I received was from a teacher in the Midwest. She told me how the books are being used in her class. (There is no one right way.) She said: “The students were engaged the entire time using your text. They loved the feel of the book as well as all of the graphics within. As one student stated ‘It’s like the book tricks you into wanting to learn and explore more.’

“As far as how we incorporated the book in class we did it in a variety of ways: Some days we read as a whole class, other days students were placed in reading circles, and guided reading.

Differentiated instruction was very easy to implement. After covering the information in several chapters students would then be given a timed activity to show their mastery of the information covered. We made reading guides to go along with each chapter and sometimes we even kept dialogues of particular chapters.

My students really excelled using your text.”

I’m glad the books helped them excel, I don’t even mind being accused of trickery, but clearly that is one great teacher.

Now, full disclosure, my Muslim reader pointed out a misspelling in the book. I rely on sharp-eyed readers to make sure I have things right, and then make corrections each time we do a printing. So that you will know, in book two, Making Thirteen Colonies, on pages 11 and 12, I point out that Gibraltar is named after Tariq ibn Ziyad. Except I have him as Taril, not Tariq. That will be corrected in a future printing.




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A History of US
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The Story of Science
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Reading Science Stories
Email: joyhakim@​gmail.com

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