Exploring Multiple Perspectives
- Students will understand that there are many valid perspectives to any event.
- Students will recognize that certain voices are often excluded from mainstream texts.
- Students will feel empowered to act upon that omission and seek out information on groups that are underrepresented in their textbooks and other media.
Biases and stereotypes often occur as a result of “seeing” the same thing differently. Students will experience how different people see or experience the same situation.
Create and view diagram A, an intersection where five streets converge. Five different people are standing on each corner and witness an accident between a school bus and a red sports car. Each witness standing on the corner had a view that someone across the way did not have from their vantage point. More importantly, discuss if any witness had a vested interest in the event that would affect the key points they would remember and/or influence the vocabulary that they would use to describe their version of the story (see each person described below). Divide the class into five groups to represent the following “People”:
Person A is a school employee
Person B has been in a car accident recently
Person C is an insurance agent of one of the drivers
Person D is a sports car mechanic
Person E hates anything red
Discuss “what happened?” tailored by the vested interests listed. What is the outcome?
Now replay the action with Diagram B. Same 5-corners, but instead of a traffic accident, the event at the intersection is a major historic event, Westward Expansion. The witnesses on the corners represent the major ethnic groups in the United States, or the “Federal Five:” African American, Asian Pacific American, European American, Latino/a American, and Native American. Whose version of the event is voiced in the standard history books when we learn about this historic event?
On the whole, most of the standard texts come from the voice of the European American corner. This does not mean that voice is wrong, but that we may not have had access to, nor thought to ask for other witness’ accounts to balance out the story. Notice the vocabulary. The European American corner may use phrases such as “winning the west”, “savage, primitive and massacre” when referring to Natives.
Consider the vested interests. What would be contrasting phrases speaking from the Native corner? How about the African American corner of those who took part in homesteading? What words would come from the Latino/a American corner – those who were caught in the North/South annexation of the land? Were there Asian Americans – possibly from the Filipino settlements near New Orleans?
As in the case of the traffic accident, the attempt to “interview” all of the witnesses allows for a fuller picture of the event. And like judge and jury, teaching students to weigh the evidence and arguments is an exercise in higher-order thinking skills and critical thinking skills.
Write a persuasive essay to convince authors to include or to exclude multiple perspectives in textbooks. Invite students to choose their positions and to provide at least three convincing pieces of evidence to support their argument.
When planning a persuasive essay, follow these steps
- Choose your position. Which side of the issue or problem are you going to write about, and what solution will you offer? Know the purpose of your essay.
- Analyze your audience. Decide if your audience agrees with you, is neutral, or disagrees with your position.
- Research your topic. A persuasive essay must provide specific and convincing evidence. Often it is necessary to go beyond your own knowledge and experience. You might need to go to the library or interview people who are experts on your topic. (Or in this case, you could refer back to your analysis in the last lesson and include data that you have collected on the ethnic or racial group that you tracked in the media.)
- Structure your essay. Figure out what evidence you will include and in what order you will present the evidence. Remember to consider your purpose, your audience, and you topic.
The following criteria are essential to produce an effective argument
- Be well informed about your topic. To add to your knowledge of a topic, read thoroughly about it, using legitimate sources. Take notes.
- Test your thesis. Your thesis, i.e., argument, must have two sides. It must be debatable. If you can write down a thesis statement directly opposing your own, you will ensure that your own argument is debatable.
- Disprove the opposing argument. Understand the opposite viewpoint of your position and then counter it by providing contrasting evidence or by finding mistakes and inconsistencies in the logic of the opposing argument.
- Support your position with evidence. Remember that your evidence must appeal to reason.
The following are different ways to support your argument:
- Facts – A powerful means of convincing, facts can come from your reading, observation, or personal experience. Note: Do not confuse facts with truths. A “truth” is an idea believed by many people, but it cannot be proven.
- Statistics – These can provide excellent support. Be sure your statistics come from responsible sources. Always cite your sources.
- Quotes – Direct quotes from leading experts that support your position are invaluable.
- Examples – Examples enhance your meaning and make your ideas concrete. They are the proof.
Many times books and materials on ethnic groups in the United States are hard to find given that they have historically made up a smaller portion of the overall population (i.e., Asian Americans make up only 4% of the total population), and these audiences are not big enough to warrant the publication of high quantities of books about them. Some students may want to critically examine the school or community library to seek answers to the following questions:
- What types of books or materials can students find in the library on different ethnic and/or racial groups?
- Do the books and materials that the library has represent the actual groups or communities that are found in this local region of the country?
- What can students do to increase the number of books and materials about groups that are underrepresented?