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Confronting Bias in the History Classroom

Dana A. Park

July 28, 2018

University of Redlands


I would like to dedicate this project to my father. Thank you for showing me the world

and raising me to appreciate it. Your never-ending curiosity always inspires me. Thank you for

supporting me wholeheartedly in my dreams of becoming a teacher, and I hope my work makes

you proud! I love you!

I would like to thank my mother for always pushing me to work harder, for recognizing

my different ways of procrastinating and always guiding me back on track. Thank you for

supporting me in my education and my choices, always. I love you!

Lastly, I would like to thank Jeff for encouraging me and being a constant source of

positivity and energy. Thank you for pushing me to follow my passion and for being there when

the road got bumpy. I love you!



As a new teacher, I wanted to solidify my understanding of the purpose of teaching

history and address the issues related to its study, specifically bias and the dependence on one-

sided textbooks. I designed a unit plan template that outlines everything a teacher should

consider when designing a unit. By using this template, teachers create space for increased self-

reflection and focus on the whys of history, both of which make a more focused and exciting

classroom for students. History classes have fallen away from critical skill development and

source interpretation. Reduced to a bland, generalized study of what happened in the past,

students - and often teachers - have a limited understanding of the purpose of learning history.

My unit plan template addresses issues of bias, refocuses instruction on student inquiry, and will

ultimately increase student engagement by offering a multifaceted, meaningful look into the past.


Dedication & Acknowledgements………………………………………………………………...i




Personal Context.………………………………………………………………………….2

Literature Review………………………………………………………………………….4

History and Related Issues………………………………………………………...4

Purpose of Education in the West…………………………………………………8

Purpose and Reality of History Instruction in the United States………………...14

Assumptions and Beliefs.………………………………………………………..……….17

Research Question and Approach.……………………………………………………….19

Product Design………………....…………………………………..…………………………….21

Product Overview………...……………………………………………..……………….21


Product Rationale……....…………………………………..…………………………….25

Discussion of Results.…………….………………………………..…………………………….30

New Insights Into My Teaching, Theoretical Assumptions and Beliefs……..………….30

Applications and Changes in Curriculum, New Emerging Questions and Next Steps….31






“History is a weapon,” wrote educator James Loewen (Loewen, 2010, p. 12). One-sided,

biased textbooks have been taught as truth across the United States, leaving students at a

disadvantage. In the introduction to his book, Teaching What Really Happened, Loewen

encourages teachers to go beyond the “tyranny of the textbook” and get students excited about

doing history (Loewen, 2010, p. iii). Instead of studying events of the past, Loewen suggests a

focus on historiography, a crucial ingredient of critical thinking (Loewen, 2010, p. 12). “Who

wrote history, who did not, and for what purpose can make all the difference. That assertion

comes from historiography – the study of the writing of history – and every high school graduate

should know both the term and how to ‘do’ it” (Loewen, 2010, p. 12). So why do students need

to study history? “History is power … history can be a weapon. Students who do not know their

own history or how to think critically about historical assertions will be ignorant and helpless

before someone who does claim to know it. Students need to be able to fight back” (Loewen,

2010, p. 12). As many textbooks have attempted to glaze over the atrocities of America’s past,

Loewen encourages teachers to work with students to uncover it (Loewen, 2010, p. 19). In this

paper, I trace the purposes of education and history education over time, highlighting “who wrote

history, who did not, and for what purpose” (Loewen, 2010, p. 12) to support my claim that

history education needs to return to its intended purpose. My unit plan template is designed to

help both teachers and students consistently seek out bias in historical sources and how that

affects the history that is taught. By developing critical thinking skills through the uncovering of

purpose, students will learn to recognize bias, injustice, and the dangers of accepting the “status

quos” of history as absolute truth.



Personal Context for Study

History is somewhat of an outcast in modern American education. With high-stakes

testing focused on math and ELA, oftentimes history teachers are left to their own devices. I

found this to be true in my student teaching experience, during which there was no set

curriculum for history. Although we had the state standards and History Social Science

Frameworks to guide us, my master teachers and I had free reign on how to teach and assess. As

a follower of the constructivist paradigm, I knew I wanted my students to construct their own

knowledge. However, I still found myself leading students to the “right” answers - the answers I

wanted them to reach themselves. I would plan my lessons around the state standards and

essential questions related to them but often felt unorganized for lack of a curriculum. My lack of

direction, coupled with an uninterested group of 180 middle schoolers, held its own challenges.

As I was brainstorming my topic for this project, the first questions I asked myself were: “How

can I engage students? What is the real purpose of teaching history? Of education? What do I

want my students to know how to do?”

When I was in school, my teachers very much aligned with the essentialist paradigm -

they had all the answers and the facts were set in stone. It was my job to memorize and

reproduce these facts during tests, in essays, and during my AP exams. Although history is my

passion and I loved those classes, I could see how most students would find history pointless,

boring, and unrelated to their lives. I completed my undergraduate degree in International

Relations and became aware of the diversity of the world, and I found excitement in traveling to

new places and learning about new cultures. My desire to have students see the world how I

learned to see it - with an open mind, curiosity, and joy - grew even more during my

postgraduate travels and experience working at a high school in Spain.

My lack of direction with teaching history and my desire to share my love of the world’s

diversity led me to dive deeply into the purpose of history itself, the purpose of education over

time, and the issues in American classrooms today. I was frustrated that such a vibrant and

exciting genre like history was reduced to a dull, memorization-based class in schools, where

students could not see any connection to their own lives. My question was why, and how, did

this happen?

How has the purpose of education over time created the current climate of history

instruction in the United States? I am looking for a grander purpose of history education. Are

teachers addressing biases, bringing in different points of view, and placing importance on

diversity, power, race, money, and the effects these have on what history we are taught? It is

important to recognize bias and realize that multiple perspectives give us a richer version of

history that is alive and breathing. Students should work with history as a living subject instead

of just memorize “facts” that perpetuate the status quo, which I believe will increase student

engagement and understanding. By researching the issues of writing history, the history of the

purpose of education in the West, and history instruction in the United States, I will understand

how bias affects the history classroom and what must be changed to return history instruction to

its intended purpose – to help students become critical thinkers and contributors to society. My

unit plan template will check that all these aspects of history instruction are present so that

students can have full access to the intricacies, perspectives, and excitement of the human story

and be able to identify what that means for their own selves, identities, and futures.

Literature Review

History and Related Issues

Before addressing the issues of history instruction in the US, it is important to understand

the origins and issues of history in general. History is, according to Jacob Burckhardt, “what one

age finds worthy of note in another” (Commager, 1980, p. 1). As defined in Webster’s

dictionary, history is “a chronological record of significant events … often including an

explanation of their causes” (Merriam-Webster's collegiate dictionary, 1993). Already, one can

see several issues history faces. First, who decides what is “worthy” or “significant”? Second,

who is recording these events, and for what purpose? History has, more often than not, been the

history of the victors (Commager, 1980, p. 4). These “victors,” being in power, are able to create

and perpetuate a story that benefits, even exults, their power and achievements. History, then, is

often biased, one-sided, and incomplete. This stems from the lopsidedness of historical sources

and from the biases of historians themselves. For instance, because European and Western

history is more readily available, we equate that with importance, or the “whole past”

(Commager, 1980, p. 43). One must look at the components of history - its origins, the role of

the historian, historical data, and interpretation - to understand just how deeply bias affects


So, where and when did history begin? The fact that history is based so largely on written

record ensures an unbalance in what history we have today (Commager, 1980, p. 43). That being

said, we look at Thucydides as the first to attempt to write history with objectivity. In her work

Thucydides and History Today, Phyllis Winter states, “At the end of the 5th century BC, Greek

historian Thucydides created a new literary form - a mix of art and science” in his writings of the

Peloponnesian War (Winter, 1959, p. 169). His art was his ability to tell a story, his science was

his approach to the story looking for truth. He adopted a quality of “high seriousness” in his

writing which distinguished his work from earlier storytellers, like Herodotus (Winter, 1959, p.

171). Herodotus was considered a master storyteller for his passionate, dramatic, and engaging

retellings of the Greco-Persian War (Winter, 1959, p. 169). However, because of his explicit

bias, his alignment with one side over another, and his focus on the virtue of characters,

subjectivity impairs his work (Winter, 1959, p. 169). While Herodotus was a great writer, it was

Thucydides who approached history in a way that still influences historians today. Objectivity

was central to his work - he writes of different people groups using the same tone (Winter, 1959,

p. 169). To him, detachment was the necessary virtue of the historian. About his own work,

Thucydides states,

The absence of romance in my history will, I fear, detract somewhat from its interest; but

if it be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an

aid to the interpretation of the future … I shall be content. In fine, I have written my

work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for

all time. (p. 171)

By writing for longevity rather than entertainment, Thucydides reiterates the importance of truth

in historical writing, which has been central to the discipline ever since. Now, the pursuit of truth

is a noble endeavor, but can history ever really be true or absolute? It comes down to

perspective. No two interpretations are ever quite alike (Commager, 1980, p. 4). Commager

(1980) asks, “Can a white, upper class man really ever understand the point of view of the

working person or the peasant” (p. 50)? We arrive first at the issue of the historian. Who is he?

Why is he writing? What does that mean for his version of history?

History is the collection, organization, and interpretation of facts. Each of these steps are

susceptible to bias on the part of the historian (Commager, 1980, p. 4). The mere selection of

materials represents subjectivity in itself (Adeoti, E. O. and Adeyeri, J. O., 2012, p. 39). How

then, can a historian be completely objective, “neutral, detached, unpassionate” (Adeoti, E. O.

and Adeyeri, J. O., 2012, p. 41)? Historians tend to focus on the “great men” that “made history”

because that is what appeals to the reader. Egyptian pharaohs, Alexander the Great, the

Athenians - these names spark images of greatness and riches. While we do know a great deal

about these people groups, and they undoubtedly made contributions to our society today, are we

getting the whole story (Commager, 1980, p. 44)? The historian’s involvement with the issues he

is researching undoubtedly affects his work in every aspect (Adeoti, E. O. and Adeyeri, J. O.,

2012, p. 40). Yet, this involvement, after all, is what adds passion, excitement, and zest to a

historian’s work (Commager, 1980, p. 51). Commager (1980) writes that “history isn’t scientific,

but subjective and passionate. There’s bias in the choice of subject, selection of material, its

organization and presentation, and its interpretation. Historians are creatures of their time, race,

faith, class and country” (p. 49). Since history cannot be truly objective, readers must “study the

historian before studying the past” (Adeoti, E. O. and Adeyeri, J. O., 2012, p. 40). What are his

values, biases, or purposes for writing? Lastly, the historian must consider the tendency of

present-mindedness while looking at the past. If he looks through the lens of his standards and

values, he is more susceptible to judging the past or making rapid conclusions, which prevents

historical understanding (Commager, 1980, p. 44).

Next, one must look at the issues of historical data. “History is based on facts but not

factual at all, but a series of accepted judgements” (Adeoti, E. O. and Adeyeri, J. O., 2012, p.

37). Sources are a challenge to the historian because they are the basis of research and, thus,

history, but are often missing or unavailable (Adeoti, E. O. and Adeyeri, J. O., 2012, p. 37). How

do we know that what has come down to us is either the most important or the most authentic

representation of any chapter of past history (Commager, 1980, p. 43)? The out-of-the-ordinary,

dramatic, unusual or romantic are often given more focus than mundane, daily life. These stories,

while engaging or entertaining, distort one’s view of the past (Commager, 1980, p. 43).

Commager (1980) reminds us that

we talk about ‘ancient history’ or pre-Columbian America as if we had even a fraction of

the facts. We take what we know from a few civilizations around the Mediterranean Sea

and call that ancient history … how little we know even now about the vast majority of

humans. At the other end of the spectrum, we know too much about the modern West -

Britain, France, America. (p. 46)

This unbalanced availability of sources has the tendency to promote one side – the West – as

more “important.”

Facts are subjective and open to interpretation by historians (Commager, 1980, p. 46, 48).

Since the past cannot be recreated, it really is not testable, so treating history as a science, free of

bias, is unrealistic. These facts are then selected by historians, with their own interests and

motives, and interpreted through the lens of their background, depth of knowledge, and

theoretical assumptions.

As teachers and students approach history in the classroom, it is vital to recognize that

bias affects every aspect of history. Instead of rejecting an obviously biased work, however, one

should instead analyze the bias and think about its consequences, asking questions like: “Who is

empowered by or included in the work?” “Who is oppressed or omitted?” and “Does it

perpetuate the status quo?”


Purpose of Education in the West

History is subject to bias, but how does that affect history education? Before looking

specifically at history in the classroom, first we will look at the general purpose of education. To

understand contemporary purposes of education, a look into the past is necessary. “Education has

taken place in most communities since earliest times as each generation has sought to pass on

cultural and social values, traditions, morality, religion, knowledge and skills to the next

generation” (Gvelesiani, 2013, p. 169). Themes of citizenship, control, and nationalism weave

themselves into the legacy of education. What impact does that have on how students are

educated today?

One of the earliest purposes of education centered on citizenship. In ancient Greece, it

was the “responsibility of citizens to learn how to contribute to society” (Heater, 2004, p. 2). In

the city-states of Sparta and Athens, we see this contribution in the form of both military and

political participation. In the early 6th century BC, Sparta was looking to expand. Through brutal

physical education, Sparta “shaped its citizenry to its perceived needs” (Heater, 2004, p. 4). As

more and more land - and people - were brought under Spartan rule, there became a need for a

“highly-trained elite citizen class with unquestioning obedience” (Heater, 2004, p. 4). Sparta had

“the rigid militarism of a state-organized (totalitarian) system designed to produce brave (but

blindly conformist) sons and daughters of the fatherland” (Griffith, 2001, p. 23). Thus, education

in its earliest form was meant to equip citizens with the skills they needed to defend their state.

In Athens, on the other hand, we see the early development of democracy. In his Politics, ancient

Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, “The citizens of a state should always be educated to suit the

constitution of a state” (Heater, 2004, p. vii). “As Athens became increasingly democratic

socially and politically … the broadening of educational facilities became increasingly needed”

(Heater, 2004, p. 7). Education’s purpose, then, was to “develop citizens capable of participating

rationally and articulately in the political process” (Griffith, 2001, p. 23). While Athenian

students were also trained for the military, “teaching academic subjects was highly valued within

the Athenian society” (Gvelesiani, 2013, p. 169). Whereas in Sparta education was more rigid

and state-focused, “Athenians believed that accomplishments in academics helped an individual

to find an appropriate place in the society. Education was a key component of a person’s

identity” (Gvelesiani, 2013, p. 169). Concepts of identity and one’s place in society were

becoming clear as early as the 5th century BC. However, the Athenian polis

was a compact community dominated by a relatively small and ethnically cohesive

group, for whom outsiders – the foreigners and slaves – undertook vital work. As a

consequence, the dominant group enjoyed the privileges of relative wealth and leisure to

participate in the government of the polis, to be, in short, citizens. (Heater, 2004, p. 1)

Though education today draws heavily from ancient Greece’s focus on citizenship, many were

left out of the narrative, while the small, elite class enjoyed educational and political


In the Middle Ages, education was bound to the Roman Catholic Church, which used its

power as a means of controlling society. When Germanic tribes took over the Western Roman

Empire in 476, the Church had already established itself as a high power.

Christianity had become the authoritative religion of the Roman world, and, through the

complete organization of the Church with the Bishop of Rome as its head, its power

became practically unlimited … It was natural that the Church should stand as the chief

guide and schoolmaster of the Germanic hosts. (Graves, 1923, p. 4)


Despite the influences of Greco-Roman learning, the Church soon had all pagan schools closed,

leaving itself as the sole educator of the masses (Graves, 1923, p. 4). The monasticism

movement arose out of the corruption of 3rd century Rome and the need some Christians felt to

“flee from the world and its temptations” and take “refuge in an isolated life of holy devotion”

(Graves, 1923, p. 5). These monks “turned to the cultivation of the soil, the preservation of

literature, and teaching” (Graves, 1923, p. 7). Monastic education, where established, was

primarily literary and focused on the three ideals of obedience, chastity, and poverty (Graves,

1923, p. 13). Essentially, education ensured students became obedient and stayed loyal to the

Church and its ideals. In 800, Charlemagne became Holy Roman Emperor, welding the Church

and state together and ushering in a wave of reforms. He realized that a “genuine unity of his

people could be brought about only … by means of a common language, culture and set of

ideas” (Graves, 1923, p. 27). Charlemagne recognized the deterioration of education, the Church,

and preservation of learning in general (Graves, 1923, p. 27), and in the late 700s he elected a

minister of education and set to revive monastic, cathedral, and parish schools, as well as a

higher institution called the Palace School (Graves, 1923, p. 28). At Charlemagne’s insistence to

“increase standards and improve facilities” (Graves, 1923, p. 30), reading and writing were

taught, and elementary education was free for all. Charlemagne used education to mold a

homogenous western European kingdom - the Holy Roman Empire. The Roman Catholic

Church continued its hold over society in the middle ages through the Reformation of the 16th

century. “Submission to the authority of the Catholic Church was paramount … education fell

back … into the grooves of formalism, repression, and distrust of reason” (Graves, 1923, p. 235).

As feudal lords began to lose power in Europe around the 15th century, it was transferred

into the hands of national monarchs. This led to the age of the nation-state. States were

expanding and consolidating, developing distinct languages and cultures. Where did education’s

purpose lie in the promotion of national identity and power? Susanne Wiborg compares the

theories of two Enlightenment philosophers - Jean Jacques Rousseau of France and Johann

Herder of Germany - constructing the purpose of education in the rise of nationalism and state-

building. Rousseau claimed that “not only could patriotism be created but indeed moulded. The

task of governments was to carve the mould- the education institution - in which the children of

nations should be shaped” (Wiborg, 2000, p. 235). Similarities in the purpose of education for

the nation-state and for the polis in ancient Greece are quite apparent. Rousseau saw nationhood

in political terms - citizens united for the state - while Herder saw nationhood in cultural,

linguistic terms (Wiborg, 2000, p. 235). Both saw education as key in developing their respective

nations (Wiborg, 2000, p. 236). Rousseau “emphasised the role of education, as he contended

that education elevates the individual to national status” (Wiborg, 2000, p. 237). In education for

citizenship, Wiborg (2000) says,

the intellectual development of a child was more or less neglected and social realities

were among the most important issues to be addressed … He suggests that in order for

the curriculum to be patriotic it should emphasise the symbols, language and literature of

the nation-state, and that subjects like history and geography should cover only the

territory lying within national borders. (p. 238)

Herder believed a nation “was to be regarded as a separate natural entity whose claim to political

recognition rested on the possession of a common culture rooted in language” and thus,

“education was a vehicle to effect the transmission of a cultural heritage from one generation to

the next, as the means of ensuring the historical consciousness of the people in question”

(Wiborg, 2000, p. 240). Herder and Rousseau both believed the role of education was significant

“because of its accessibility to all the citizens, the promotion of national language and literacy,

and the codification of indigenous national history and symbols” (Wiborg, 2000, p. 241). In this

system, states shaped loyal citizens and disciplined workers through a “standardised school

system [which] attempted to force the homogenisation of the culture … minorities living in

France were compelled to integrate into a universal system in order that a 'homogenous culture’

be maintained” (Wiborg, 2000, p. 241). Homogenization of a nation’s culture and the focus on

national vernacular, history and ethnicity in education, led to the development of a new kind of

nationalism in the 19th century. “From 1870 to 1918 this developed into a chauvinistic

nationalism of race and cultural exclusiveness” (Wiborg, 2000, p. 241), the impact of which can

be seen clearly in Hitler’s Germany.

Through the lenses of citizenship, control, and nationalism, one can clearly see the

purpose of education in the West was to produce citizens for the benefit of the state, whether that

be a city-state, a religious empire, or a nation-state. This often involved the indoctrination of

national, religious, and philosophical ideals meant to homogenize the population and keep power

structures in place. These notions of citizenship, control, and nationalism have combined in the

purpose of education in the United States.

Education for citizenship has been imbedded in the American rhetoric since the nation’s

formation. The founding fathers recalled ancient Greek philosophers when they defined the

purpose of education as preparing students to be citizens in a democratic society. Thomas

Jefferson believed that “creative and rational thought would lead to an orderly and stable

society” (Oakes, J. and Lipton, M., 2013), one in which citizens freely exercised their individual

rights. Horace Mann, founder of the modern public school, also thought education should be the

center of a democratic society and that knowledge would lead to social empowerment and an

extension of rights and liberties to all (Oakes, J. and Lipton, M., 2013).

In reality, however, education was used to control, reproduce the social order, and

homogenize “American” culture. While the American government was promoting their

“democracy,” where all were entitled to their individual rights, any person who did not fit the

white Protestant male profile was systematically ousted from the education their white

counterparts received (Oakes, J. and Lipton, M., 2013). Those who considered themselves truly

“American” – Protestant, white, and English-speaking – feared new immigrants from different

parts of Europe would threaten the established American image. Education reformers in the early

twentieth century sought to establish religious and moral order (Oakes, J. and Lipton, M., 2013).

This “Americanization” sought to eliminate the “other” or anyone who was not Anglo-Saxon and

Christian. Immigrant students were expected to assimilate to their new American culture, and

adopt its virtues. English-only laws were passed in attempts to eradicate differences (Oakes, J.

and Lipton, M., 2013).

In the modern age, nationalism and education are used as tools to increase a nation’s

participation and successes in the global market. “Governments see education as a process of

nation building that involves both economic and social objectives … the formation of national

citizens and the preparation of future workers for the national labour market” (Wiborg, 2000, p.

241). International competition urges countries to develop a highly-skilled citizenry. Capitalism

and the increase in manufacturing created the need for more workers in the early twentieth

century. Students were taught various job skills in addition to the work ethic needed to be part of

the huge capitalist machine. Tracks were developed in schools that divided students between

academic and vocational routes (Oakes, J. and Lipton, M., 2013). As international tensions rose

in the early twentieth century, education was looked at to raise the educational level of American

students. Post-WWII tensions between the US and Russia increased when Russia launched the

satellite Sputnik into space (Oakes, J. and Lipton, M., 2013). American politicians blamed

schools for losing to their Cold War enemy. Science and mathematics were designated as top-

priority subjects, and standards increased for both schools and students to do better. As the world

economy continues to globalize, American politicians continue to push schools to produce

competitive, intelligent citizens. Acts like President Bill Clinton’s Goals 2000 and President

George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act held schools to high academic standards meant to

increase national cohesiveness and international competitiveness (Oakes, J. and Lipton, M.,


Purpose and Reality of History Instruction in the United States

If the purposes of education have overwhelmingly been for the benefit of the state, how

has that affected history instruction? What is the purpose of history instruction? With the onset

of standardized testing and creating citizens to participate in the global economic market, history

instruction has taken a backseat to science and math curricula. A comparison of the purpose of

history instruction and its reality in a textbook-focused classroom reveals a disconnect between

ideals and actions.

The Bradley Commission on History in Schools was created in 1987 in response to the

inadequacy in quantity and quality of history instruction in schools. The Commission (1988)

states the purpose of history instruction and best practices for the classroom:

History is the discipline that can best help [students] to understand and deal with change,

and at the same time to identify the deep continuities that link past and present. Without

such understanding, the two foremost aims of American education will not be achieved –

the preparation of all our people for private lives of personal integrity and fulfillment, and

their preparation for public life as democratic citizens. (p. 5)

The Commission’s recommendations create a vision of a history classroom that is meaningful,

exciting, and multifaceted. The Commission (1988) highlights the purpose of history education:

To develop judgment and perspective, historical study must often focus upon broad,

significant themes and questions, rather than short-lived memorization of facts without

context. In doing so, historical study should provide context for facts and training in

critical judgment based upon evidence, including original sources, and should cultivate

the perspective arising from a chronological view of the past down to the present day. (p.


The Commission (1988) also recognizes the need for multiple perspectives and sources:

History can best be understood when the roles of all constituent parts of society are

included; therefore the history of women, racial and ethnic minorities, and men and

women of all classes and conditions should be integrated into historical instruction. (p. 7)

Finally, the Commission (1988) states that history is interdisciplinary and multifaceted, not a set

of facts to be memorized:

Each kind of history offers narrative and case studies to test and illustrate concepts drawn

from other disciplines, which in their turn give added meaning to the historical record.

History, by its nature, is an interdisciplinary subject. It should never be reduced to a thin

recital of successive dates and facts, but carry what has been called ‘thick narrative,’

which combines lively storytelling and biography with conceptual analysis drawn from

every relevant discipline. Biography in particular reveals the significance of individual


lives, both of leaders and of ordinary people, as a way of making historical processes and

their human consequences real to students. (p. 24)

Thus, the purpose of history education is to develop critical, higher-order thinking skills, to see

history as a multidisciplinary subject with multiple perspectives, and to find one’s identity as a

citizen within society.

However, essentialist views of education, combined with a reliance on one-sided, biased

textbooks, have reduced history instruction to a dull, static look at the past. Instead of viewing

the past as a set of agreed-upon facts, teachers must ask questions like: “Who writes the story?

What is left out? Who decides what events are ‘significant’? Why are certain narratives included

- or excluded?”

From the essentialist perspective, the role of education is to transmit the dominant,

accepted culture to the next generation (Oakes, J. and Lipton, M., 2013). Learning is passive,

students learn by taking in information presented by teachers. Essentialism aims to ready

students for participation in the dominant social order by teaching them the skills, knowledge,

and virtues needed to succeed within the dominant culture (Oakes, J. and Lipton, M., 2013).

Students are expected to learn the essentials and – more importantly – not question them. An

over-importance is placed on Western culture, to the point that other cultures are discredited and

ignored. Also, the student’s lack of an active role in the classroom likens him to being just

another cog in the Western machine – unquestioningly accepting and following what he’s being

taught. Intellectual thought is developed, but not so much so that students start questioning

reality, injustice, and inequality (Oakes, J. and Lipton, M., 2013).


The problem of bias in history textbooks is outlined by Doctor of Education Michael H.

Romanowski, who states that textbooks perpetuate the status quo through their use of language

and source selection. He (n.d.) writes

textbooks define and determine what is important in American history. In making

judgments about what should be included and what should be excluded, and how

particular episodes in history should be summarized, textbook authors assign positive or

negative interpretations to particular events, thereby asserting a set of values. The fact

that these values are often not declared explicitly, but remain implicit, does not make

them less powerful. (p. 1)

Since textbook authors do not address these values they put forth, their work is

“presented in the printed and bound textbook with its aura of authority that is beyond question

and criticism” (Romanowski, n.d., p. 1). However, Romanowski (n.d.) states that “textbooks are

influenced by the … beliefs of their authors, which usually support the status quo, or

conventional understandings about what is praiseworthy or blameworthy in history” (p. 1). To

counteract the dangers of teaching one-sided history in the classroom, Romanowski (n.d.)

proposes that “we must begin to respond critically to the meanings and impressions history

textbooks construct. History classes must begin to use strategies that identify and challenge

biases found in textbooks, and develop ethical frameworks based on justice and equality that

students and teachers can use to interpret and evaluate American history” (p. 1).

Assumptions and Beliefs

I believe learning happens when students work with the subject matter and see the

subject’s connection to their own lives and the present. The essentialist paradigm, with teachers

as the holders of all knowledge and students as recipients, prolongs the failures of history

instruction because the focus on fact memorization and testing leaves no room for asking

questions and looking for answers.

I identify with the constructivist paradigm, where students construct their own knowledge

through doing, asking questions, and drawing conclusions. This approach to instruction increases

engagement simply because students are moving, looking, and working together, not just

copying notes down that they will have to memorize later. Learning happens best in the

constructivist paradigm.

My role as a teacher is that of facilitator. My teaching practice will include limited time

at the front of the room, enough to clearly explain learning goals and expectations and review

complicated topics to solidify understanding. The rest of my time will be spent moving around

the room, working with students individually and in groups, checking progress, and redirecting

with a question or comment. This allows students to take responsibility of their education and

develop their reasoning, research, and writing skills. However, the beginning and end of each

class will include a whole class discussion to review student progress and share conclusions to

ensure students are understanding the content and purpose of the class.

A history curriculum should be comprehensive, focused not only on learning about the

past but developing the skills necessary to think, analyze, and conclude critically. The curriculum

should cover learning goals, objectives, standards, accommodations, and assessment practices. In

addition, the curriculum should include the how and why of history, not just the what. A space

for teacher reflection before and after each unit is taught should be given high importance.

Beforehand, the teacher needs to ask questions like: “Why am I teaching this? Am I teaching the

whole story?” After the unit is complete, the teacher should ask: “Did students achieve the

learning goals? Could some aspect of the unit have gone better or differently?” Most

importantly, a history curriculum needs to address more than one side of the story. Concepts

such as purpose and bias need to be identified in all sources used in the class so that students

understand not only what happened in the past but the importance of analyzing how the past has

been told.

Research Question and Approach

I will design a unit plan template that addresses historical bias and redirects history

classrooms to their intended purpose. This unit plan template includes the steps necessary to

offer students a comprehensive, meaningful look at history that is rich in stories, offers multiple

points of view by bringing in outside sources, and teaches critical skills such as research, source

checking, and analysis. My literature review, by addressing the issues of history, the purposes of

education, and the purposes and realities of history instruction, prove that history classrooms

need to return to their intended purpose. The purpose of history instruction is to teach students

how to think critically, communicate well-researched arguments, and participate in a democratic

society. Students need to know how bias has affected history and who it empowers (and

oppresses) so that they can learn to recognize injustices. By connecting history to the present,

bringing in outside stories, and looking at power and oppression, students will see that history is

not just a set of events in the past but a continuous power struggle that affects their lives.

I approached the issue of bias in the history classroom by designing a unit plan template

because this will offer needed structure to the history classroom. It will make it easier for

teachers to create meaningful unit plans that address history’s issues, connect content across

units and themes, and engage higher-order thinking. By working through the template, teachers

will rationalize each segment of their unit of instruction to ensure meaningful and well-planned

lessons. Comprehensive unit plans will improve history courses by making them meaningful and

interactive, which will lead to the “preparation for private lives of personal integrity and

fulfillment, and their preparation for public life as democratic citizens” (The Bradley

Commission on History in Schools, 1988, p. 5).



Product Overview

The purpose of this unit plan template is to confront the fact that history instruction often

strays from its purpose and fails to leave room for critical analysis and inquiry. The template is

aligned with the new History Social Science Framework for California Public Schools, which

reemphasizes student inquiry as the means of studying history (California Department of

Education, 2017). In the Framework (2017),

students critique the relevancy, credibility, and utility of historical sources for a specific

historical inquiry or as used in a secondary interpretation based on the author, date, place

of origin, intended audience, and purpose … they understand that history is an

interpretive discipline. They analyze historians’ interpretations of the past, including the

limitations in historical evidence, and the authors’ arguments, claims, and use of

evidence. Finally, students integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources

and interpretations into a reasoned argument based on evidence about the past and

present it in oral, written, and multimedia presentations. (p. 280-281)

Below is the complete unit plan template. Each section is elaborated upon and its purpose

justified in the Product Rationale section that follows.



Class/Grade: ___________ Semester: _____

Unit #: _______ Title: ____________________

Big Question:

Unit Rationale:

*Planning Checkpoint for Unit Rationale

Does the Big Question connect to the key themes of this unit?

Can the Big Question be answered through student inquiry?

Have you highlighted the historical context and timeframe of this unit in the rationale?

Why do students need to know this unit?

Section 1: Standards, Themes, Objectives, Connections

California State Content Standards Common Core Skills
- -
- -
- -

Essential Questions

Unit Objectives Cognitive Level

- Students will be able to … -
- -
- -
- -

*Planning Checkpoint for Standard and Objective Alignment

Do the essential questions align with the standards?

Do they push students to think deeper (not just the what, but the why and how)?

Do the essential questions address excluded, oppressed and/or minority groups? Do they
address bias?

Are the unit objectives student-achievement focused and measurable?

Is the cognitive level of each objective rigorous yet appropriate for students?

Key Themes: Relation to Other Units:

- -
- -
- -

*Planning Checkpoint for Connections

Are key themes from the course embedded into the essential questions and lesson

Does this unit fit in to the larger sequence of study? Are topics, themes and skills in this unit
relatable to other units?

Section 2: Lesson Plans and Sources

Lesson Plans
List the title and brief rationale for each lesson plan within the unit:

*Planning Checkpoint for Complete Lesson Plans

Does each lesson plan align with specific standards and essential questions?

Is student inquiry central to your lesson plans? Will students look at bias?

Is there time for students to have discussions and improve their academic conversation

List all sources that are going to be used in the unit (organized by lesson plan):
*Planning Checkpoint for Source Bias
Are sources from multiple perspectives so that students get a comprehensive view?

What do certain groups have to say about themselves? Are these sources included?

Is source analysis (looking at who wrote what, when, and why) embedded into lesson plans
so students can assess purpose and bias?

Section 3: Reflection
Is student-led inquiry central to your lesson plans? Yes/No

Are students supported in their academic literacy development? Yes/No

Do instructional strategies draw on student backgrounds? Yes/No

Will students understand why they’ve learned this unit? Yes/No

If No to any of the above, rework the unit and lesson plans until you can answer each
question with a Yes.

Do you have biases in regard to this unit? Yes/No

If yes, what will you do to address those biases when you teach the unit?

Product Rationale

Big Question

This questions summarizes the point of the entire unit. It is engaging, thought-provoking,

and “a question of significance,” as encouraged by the History Social Science Frameworks. For

example, in a Revolutionary War unit from E. R. Murrow High School, the Big Question was

“When should people question authority and revolt against it?” Instead of simply asking, “What

was the Revolutionary War?” the question sparks interest and sets the stage for critical thinking

on the part of the students.

Unit Rationale

This is the why of the unit. It can begin with, “Students need to learn the content and

skills embedded in this unit because …” or “This moment in history is important to students

because …” The unit rationale guides the unit as well. When students and teachers understand

the whys of history, they see history not as a concrete past but as a living document, open to

interpretation and analysis, which develops critical thinkers.

Planning Checkpoint for Unit Rationale

This checkpoint is to make sure teachers know where their unit is headed. A clear Big

Question generates interest in the unit, while the Unit Rationale covers the importance. The

rationale is a great place to put the historical context, timeframe, and relation to units before and

after this unit. Include any biases or exclusions this unit of study has been historically subjected

to. For example, if the unit is on WWII, rationalize why the inclusion of Japanese testimonies is



The California State Content Standards are legally required to be followed in the

classroom. Having standards that guide the unit is an excellent way to stay on topic and deliver

content in an organized fashion. Common Core Skill Standards should be embedded in every

lesson so that in all circumstances students are improving their academic literacy skills.

Essential Questions

The Essential Questions are even more specific than the content standards. Essential

Questions should guide lesson planning. For example, a teacher can design lessons with the

purpose of answering an Essential Question. Students will use Common Core literacy skills to

answer such questions. Essential Questions should not only ask about the happenings of those in

power but include historically repressed or excluded groups. For example, John McNamara (n.d.)

writes Essential Questions for a unit on the Revolutionary War could be “Was colonial America

a democratic society?” or “Was slavery the basis of freedom in colonial America?” (p. 1)

Unit Objectives and Cognitive Level

Unit Objectives identify exactly what students will be able to do. For example, “Students

will be able to evaluate whether or not the colonists were justified in seeking independence.” For

each unit objective, there is a space to write the objective’s cognitive level. Utilizing Bloom’s

Taxonomy (Appendix A), from lowest to highest level these are: remember, understand, apply,

analyze, evaluate, and create, with specific verbs within each level (Vanderbilt University Center

for Teaching, n.d.). By writing down each objective’s cognitive level, teachers can make sure

students are exposed to differentiated and advanced means of working with material as opposed

to just memorizing facts. This leads to increased engagement of the various learning styles.

Planning Checkpoint for Standard and Objective Alignment

Standard alignment is key for a well-designed, meaningful unit plan. Content and skill

standards must be aligned with Essential Questions. These Essential Questions must push

students to think deeper by accessing higher levels of thinking. Unit Objectives must be

measurable, which allows for clarity and explicitness in what students should know. Finally,

Essential Questions must include groups often excluded from the narrative. This means asking

about oppression, violence, and power, which are sometimes excluded from or made more

palatable in history curricula.

Key Themes

Key themes should be presented at the beginning of every year. These should be broad

and referenced to throughout the year to provide cohesiveness in the course. In the context of a

class that addresses bias and analyzes the power struggles of history, themes such as power,

oppression, identity, freedom, and money allow students to analyze causes of certain events,

their consequences, and reasons for injustice and bias.

Relation to Other Units

This unit should make sense in the context of the semester and year. Does it build upon

content and skills gained in previous units? Will it set students up for the next unit? These can be

connections in theme (oppression, racism) or continuity (a unit on the Roaring 20s followed by a

unit on the Great Depression).

Planning Checkpoint for Connections

Recurring themes in history are important for students to understand and recognize.

Essential Questions and Objectives should include these themes to offer students a

comprehensive look at the unit so they can connect it with other units and points of history. Why

do certain patterns emerge in history? Teachers must make sure to highlight and emphasize the

importance of such connections.

Lesson Plans

Here, the teacher will list the title and rationale for each lesson within the unit. This is to

provide the context in which these broad unit goals and objectives will be carried out. Lesson

plans should be thorough and include instructional strategies, student activities, resources and

materials needed, and modes of assessment. The rationale for each lesson should make sense

within the unit rationale and include what students will be doing and why.

Planning Checkpoint for Lesson Plans

Lesson plans should be aligned with the standards and Essential Questions of the unit.

Inquiry-based learning should be central to every lesson because students make the most out of

material they actively engage with. Students also need the time to look at bias in any given unit.

How has bias affected the material they are taught? Time for discussion is also important

because in addition to reading and writing about history, students benefit from practicing

academic conversation. This allows students to share their informed opinions and listen to what

others have to say in a safe and productive environment. Students learn to see history from

different perspectives and address their own biases they may have.


By listing the sources used in the entire unit, teachers can make sure they include various

sources from different viewpoints and people groups. They can also quickly identify the origins

and potential biases in their sources and if their selection might be one-sided. History from

multiple perspectives offers a more complete view of the past.


Planning Checkpoint for Source Bias

This section addresses the often one-sidedness of history textbooks and ensures the

teacher has included sources from multiple perspectives. Minority voices are given high

importance because, historically, minority groups have not been able to speak for themselves.

Room for students to analyze sources is also important because it teaches them to recognize bias

and, thus, historical accuracy and validity.


Student inquiry, support, connection, and understanding are of highest importance in any

unit. In this section, teachers are asked simple but important yes/no questions so that they can

easily assess the completion of their unit plan and rework any aspects that are missing. Lastly,

the teacher is asked to address his or her own biases that may have unknowingly influenced the

design of the unit or selection of sources. As the teacher’s role is that of a facilitator, it is

important not to transfer his or her ideals, biases or values onto the students and instead let

students draw their own, well-informed conclusions.



New Insights Into My Teachings, Theoretical Assumptions, and Beliefs

My research has made me an expert on just how much bias affects all aspects of history.

One’s background, values, and interests add a subjectivity to studying the past. Knowing this, I

am much more aware of my own biases and the biases of others. I have also realized that one

cannot be completely objective in anything – history and education included. Instead, as an

expert on bias in the classroom, I have learned to recognize bias and analyze how that bias

affects historical sources. Acknowledging bias in myself and others has made me more critical

when I read, write, and argue. This will help me in the classroom because I can now model these

critical thinking skills to my students. Knowing that I have biases makes me more open to

others’ perspectives, which is vital for progress in all areas of life.

I am now aware of how education has been used as a political tool since antiquity, and

how that has affected the modern American classroom. Those in power have used education to

perpetuate the structures that keep them in power, which involves keeping the powerless

oppressed. The paradox that this creates in the United States, a major proponent of democracy

and equality for all, is both angering and motivating. I will not perpetuate the status quo in my

classroom, but instead teach students to recognize this irony and work to change it.

This project has shown me the importance of planning and having a clear vision for my

classroom. I will use this unit plan template in my own classes because it gives me the direction I

was lacking in my previous teaching experiences. Students benefit from well-planned,

meaningful lesson plans because it helps them see historical significance and improve critical-

thinking skills. I want source analysis and discussions on bias to be central in my classroom

discussions. Student inquiry will guide all of my units because I realize that inquiry allows

students to become academically independent.

My knowledge about history itself has changed immensely. My research on the issues of

history has shown me that all aspects of history are subjective – from the historian, to the topic

and sources chosen, to the interpretation of them. However, I also learned that there will always

be uncertainty in any historical event because I will never have the whole story. What I can do

instead is focus on sources from the periphery – minority voices, the oppressed, the powerless,

those that make up the majority of the human race but have been consistently excluded from the

historical narrative. Reading what people have to say for themselves opens up a world of

knowledge and understanding. By bringing these realizations into the classroom, students will

learn to look at primary sources from multiple perspectives because it is what will give them the

whole – or at least more complete – story.

Applications and Changes in Curriculum

I plan to use this unit plan in my classroom. It is easy to use and addresses what I believe

to be the most important aspects of a history course. It will remind me to constantly be checking

my own bias and to have an explicit purpose for everything that goes on in my classroom.

New Emerging Questions and Next Steps

The first question that arose is: Are teachers actually going to use this template? Will I?

Teachers have so much on their plate that I envision this template being used at the beginning of

the year and then forgotten about. But, I hope that by using this template even a few times, the

planning steps will become engrained in teachers’ minds so it will become a natural process and

teachers intrinsically check for bias, include multiple perspectives, and focus on student inquiry.

My next question is about the discussion of bias. Are school environments equipped for

teachers to bring up their biases and have honest discussions? Teachers have gotten fired for

expressing opinions. When will we create a safe environment for them? Since teachers need to

watch what they say, how does that affect students’ willingness to have honest discussions?

Since this project was research-based, my next step would be to bring this template into

the classroom. I would like to observe teachers planning with it and observe lessons based on the

template. I would conduct interviews with teachers, students, and administration to see how this

template fits into the school setting. That way, I could make improvements and changes. I would

like to see this template used across an entire history department so that history teachers could

have discussions about their use of the template and any biases that come up. Hopefully this

would create a culture of honest discussion and history classrooms focused on inquiry and

critical analysis skills.


The biggest limitation on this project was time. There is always more research to be

reviewed, professionals to interview, and different aspects to delve into more deeply. This

project is the beginning of what has the potential to redefine how students and teachers view

history education. Other limitations would be teacher interest in this template. Teachers stuck in

routines or simply without time might not want to use this in-depth planning template. Also, my

own biases placed limitations on this project. My family background, teaching perspective,

education, race, social class, and moral values have all influenced this project immensely, in

ways I perhaps do not even realize.



History can and has been used as a weapon – against students, minority groups, and those

who have historically been out of power. A massive shift in history education has the potential to

change how students feel about history and interact with it. This shift includes a heavy focus on

historiography, which will get students thinking about why a source was written and for what

purpose. The shift will guide classrooms back to student-based inquiry, where students ask

questions and find answers through research. Multiple historical perspectives (minority and

women voices) will give students a well-rounded view of the world, while helping them address

their own biases and assumptions. My unit plan template works to include all of these aspects of

the vibrant, living document of history, in hopes of leading students to become more open-

minded, critical, and powerful.



Appendix A

Appendix B

Class/Grade: ___________ Semester: _____

Unit #: _______ Title: ____________________

Big Question:

Unit Rationale:

*Planning Checkpoint for Unit Rationale

Does the Big Question connect to the key themes of this unit?

Can the Big Question be answered through student inquiry?

Have you highlighted the historical context and timeframe of this unit in the rationale?

Why do students need to know this unit?

Section 1: Standards, Themes, Objectives, Connections

California State Content Standards Common Core Skills
- -
- -
- -

Essential Questions

Unit Objectives Cognitive Level

- Students will be able to … -
- -
- -
- -

*Planning Checkpoint for Standard and Objective Alignment

Do the essential questions align with the standards?

Do they push students to think deeper (not just the what, but the why and how)?

Do the essential questions address excluded, oppressed and/or minority groups? Do they
address bias?

Are the unit objectives student-achievement focused and measurable?

Is the cognitive level of each objective rigorous yet appropriate for students?

Key Themes: Relation to Other Units:

- -
- -
- -

*Planning Checkpoint for Connections

Are key themes from the course embedded into the essential questions and lesson

Does this unit fit in to the larger sequence of study? Are topics, themes and skills in this unit
relatable to other units?

Section 2: Lesson Plans and Sources

Lesson Plans
List the title and brief rationale for each lesson plan within the unit:

*Planning Checkpoint for Complete Lesson Plans

Does each lesson plan align with specific standards and essential questions?

Is student inquiry central to your lesson plans? Will students look at bias?

Is there time for students to have discussions and improve their academic conversation

List all sources that are going to be used in the unit (organized by lesson plan):
*Planning Checkpoint for Source Bias
Are sources from multiple perspectives so that students get a comprehensive view?

What do certain groups have to say about themselves? Are these sources included?

Is source analysis (looking at who wrote what, when, and why) embedded into lesson plans
so students can assess purpose and bias?

Section 3: Reflection
Is student-led inquiry central to your lesson plans? Yes/No

Are students supported in their academic literacy development? Yes/No

Do instructional strategies draw on student backgrounds? Yes/No

Will students understand why they’ve learned this unit? Yes/No

If No to any of the above, rework the unit and lesson plans until you can answer each
question with a Yes.

Do you have biases in regard to this unit? Yes/No

If yes, what will you do to address those biases when you teach the unit?


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