HM - Dec. 2015 - Sekiguchi 2

Partners in History


Divided Memories:
Classroom Exercises

By Rylan Sekiguchi
SPICE, Stanford University

Summary: The exercises below are excerpted from the full Divided Memories curriculum unit, developed at Stanford University to engage students in issues of perspective, bias, media literacy, historiography, and the politics of history education. The research, scholarship, rationale, and pedagogy behind the Divided Memories project is discussed in the companion article “Divided Memories: Using International Textbooks to Teach About Perspective, Bias, and Historical Memory.

The four scaffolded exercises below are intended to help students recognize bias in news media, in history textbooks, and ultimately within themselves. Because the exercises are designed as a progression, they work best when taught in order.
All necessary classroom materials are downloadable at the following links:

Exercise 1: Comparing News Headlines (Recognizing Media Bias)

1.  Divide students into small groups (3–5 students each), and explain that each group will receive a set of news headlines that describe the same news story. Distribute one version of Handout 1, Comparing News Headlines, to each group such that half the groups receive headline set A and half receive set B. (Headline sets appear below.)

Headline Set A
“73% of Indiana students graduate”
“27% of Indiana students don’t graduate”
“Report: Indiana ranks 23rd in graduate rate”
Headline Set B
“High school test scores unimpressive”
“Test scores lag as grades improve, reports say”
“High school test scores unimpressive yet grades, transcripts improving”
2.  Display the headline comparison questions below (Prezi presentation, frame 14). Ask students to read their handouts and discuss the questions within their groups.
  • What information appears in all headlines?
  • What information appears in some headlines but not others?
  • Are the headlines written from the same perspective? Explain.
  • Do the headlines give you the same impression of the story?
  • Why or why not?
  • How does the absence or inclusion of information in a headline affect the impression it gives readers?
  • Why do you think these headlines vary?
3.  After groups have finished discussing, walk the class through each set of headlines, calling on groups to share their answers to the discussion questions. As you walk through each set of headlines, display the headlines for students to see (Prezi presentation, frames 15–16). Refer to Teacher Information 1, Comparing News Headlines, for additional guidance.

4.  Debrief the activity using the following discussion points.
  • We have seen that news headlines can vary significantly, even when they describe the same news story. With that in mind, do you think it is possible to write a truly objective headline? Is there such a thing?
  • Even news reporting, which is supposed to be objective and balanced, often shows signs of bias. What might this imply for other sources of information, like your history textbook? Do you think it is possible to write a truly objective history textbook? Is there such a thing?
Exercise 2: “Surprise Attack” Excerpt (Recognizing Self Bias)
1.  Display the image below (Prezi presentation, frame 18) and read the text aloud.

2.  Ask students to identify the event that is depicted. American students, given their familiarity with and perspective of history, will most likely identify the event as the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Inform students that the event described and depicted is not the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is actually another World War II battle: the Japanese air raid of Darwin, the capital city of the Northern Territory of Australia, on February 19, 1942.

3.  Ask students to reflect on what just happened. Lead a discussion using the following points as a guide.
  • Did you immediately associate the description and image with Pearl Harbor? If so, why?
  • The bombing of Darwin is sometimes called “Australia’s Pearl Harbor.” Imagine that you were born and raised in Australia, studying Australian history in school. Do you think you would have made different associations with the description and image of Darwin?
  • How does one’s perspective influence how he or she interprets information?
  • One’s particular background knowledge and previous experience shapes how he or she interprets information. That is, we are all biased to some extent in our interpretation of information. In this example, American students’ familiarity with U.S. history (and unfamiliarity with Australian history) and perspective of world history predispose them to think of Pearl Harbor (and not Darwin).
  • Previously we observed that information sources (e.g., news headlines) can be biased in their presentation of information. Here we see that people can also be biased in their interpretation of information. That is, when information is shared from one person to another, bias can affect the giver and/or the receiver. Keep this in mind as we compare different societies’ textbooks, and try to avoid bias in your own interpretations.
Exercise 3: Components of Analysis (Adopting the Analytical Framework)
1.  Distribute one copy of Handout 2, Components of Analysis, to each student. Inform students that they will use these components to do a textbook comparison and analysis. Instruct them to read the handout and answer the questions at the end.
2.  Optional: Display the Prezi presentation, frames 19–22, and review the three components of analysis together as a class.

Exercise 4: Textbook Excerpt Analysis (Applying the Analytical Framework)
1.  Inform students that you will walk them through a textbook passage analysis as a guided practice. In this exercise, students will analyze three textbook excerpts regarding the events in Nanjing in 1937–38.
2.  Display the Prezi presentation, frames 24–26. Walk students through each of the three excerpts, using the three components of analysis. Solicit students’ observations throughout. (e.g., “Which terms catch your attention?”, “What perspective do they imply?”, “Which numbers catch your attention?”, etc.)
3.  Tell students that they will now analyze textbook passages on their own. Distribute one copy of Handout 3, Comparison Worksheet, to each student, and tell students to take notes on Handout 3 throughout the exercise.
4.  Divide students into small groups (3–5 students each), and distribute one copy of Handout 1A, Topic: Nanjing 1937–38, to each group. Inform them that the code at the top of each excerpt (e.g., “C4” or “J2”) indicates the excerpt’s country of origin. (“C” = China; “J” = Japan; “K” = South Korea; “T” = Taiwan; “U” = United States.) Students should pay attention to the letter in the code but ignore the number.
5.  Allow students to read, analyze, and discuss the textbook passages on Handout 1A within their small groups.
6.  Reconvene as a class. Lead a discussion comparing the textbook passages, soliciting students’ observations.
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For more information on the Divided Memories project, see the companion article “Divided Memories: Using International Textbooks to Teach About Perspective, Bias, and Historical Memory."