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A Monthly Electronic Commentary
on Educational Technology Issues
Vol 3 . . . No 8 . . . April, 1993 Editor: Jamie McKenzie, Ed.D.
1. Monthly Comments 1
2. Her Story, Their Story and His Story 2 Technologies and Equitable History
----- Monthly Comments ----
Perhaps it is a continuing sign of the times that I am spending many of my days providing workshops on grantseeking and grantwriting for Apple's school customers. While I am eager to share whatever tricks of the trade I can, I do find it objectionable that we have been reduced to bake sales, lotteries and contests in order to buy the equipment we need and fund innovation in schools. It often seems that the demands for change grow more strident even as the calls for economy grow more insistent. Sadly, the public preoccupation with spending often forces many into short term decision-making. When planning for technology, for example, it makes great sense to develop an infrastructure to support information systems, but such a systemic approach is rarely allowed. Perhaps we should all be writing our Congressional delegations and state legislators to let them know the urgency of funding these iniatives as major capital ventures - funding them with public monies!
Her Story, Their Story and His Story:
Technologies and Equitable History
Some districts expose text books and supplemental materials to extensive reviews to make certain that they meet district curriculum goals and standards, but somehow the electronic media often manage to escape such scrutiny. If your district carefully reviews software, videodiscs, automated library systems and CD-ROM discs with an eye toward making sure that no legitimate stories or people are ignored, neglected or maligned, you may be rare, and the editor would welcome examples of policies and forms which address this issue so they might be published and shared in future issues. In our enthusiastic embrace of new technologies, we sometimes lower our guard and forget the questions we might ask of any text.
In the area of history or social studies, we might ask the following, for example:
1) Are these materials inclusive? Do they provide a balanced view of the various groups that participated in the events being described? Are any important players left out? Like women? African Americans? Hispanics? Asians?
2) Do the materials contain blatant or subtle bias, propaganda, stereotypes or slanted material embedded within them?
3) Do the materials tell the stories, problems and issues of people from all segments of the society, or do they focus mainly upon leaders and events with military and economic significance?
Some of these questions have become less comfortable in recent years than they might have been a decade back. "Politically correct" became a kind of right wing counter-attack to stem the tide of progress on the development of multicultural curriculum. Eurocentric curriculum, with its emphasis upon the so-called masters, maintains a strong following which accuses the multi-cultural adherents of diluting curriculum quality for political reasons.
Despite the discomfort it might cause in some places, inclusive curriculum is both a matter of law and a matter of justice. In a democratic society students deserve a chance to explore the human record openly without someone else editing history to push a politically slanted interpretation. We are talking about keeping what Toffler calls "infotactics" out of the school curriculum. Of course this value cuts against extremists in either the eurocentric group or the multicultural group. The challenge is to open history's (herstory's, theirstory's) "book" in ways which allow students to make their own reasoned judgments. It may be that new technologies will make possible a wide-ranging kind of student research (information grazing) which will set students free to form their own opinions independently. Infoglut, the mountains of electronic information sources now readily and speedily available, may act to neutralize what used to be the intensely distilled voice of the "sage on the stage."
II. Technology Critique #1
GTV, an interactive videodisc program for U.S. history produced by National Geographic and Lucas Films, offers many minutes of motion video and thousands of slides drawn from paintings, photographs and drawings.
Using the GTV software which allows one to conduct word searches, it is possible to go looking for various groups - possible but disappointing. Judge for yourself. I have reproduced the slide lists which emerged when searching for various groups. Even though you cannot see the pictures, themselves, the titles speak eloquently.
1) There is no entry for Hispanics in the word searching list. There are 2 pictures of Mexicans in low status jobs.
2) There is an entry for women but not for men. The slides are mostly devoid of women doing anything important, professional, modern or high status. It is difficult to find pictures of politicians, business people, doctors, writers, scientists or mathematicians.
Sacagawea * Winnemucca * April 1775
Sacagawea * Tepees * Read D of I
Skirt fact. * Mom & kids * Women sew
The brides * Arrive 1907 * Harvest day
Farm girls * Sewing rows * Women work
Lake Shore * Farm women * Sew-Wisc.
Sears shoes * Sears hats * Sears hats
Ladies wear * Sears dress * Sears clerk
Return home * WW2-females * WW2-women
Riveter * WW2-worker * Relay team
Jackie Joy * Ritter * Ca. family
WINNEMUCCA * Policewoman * USA: 1910
3) There are only five slides listed for Asians (railway workers and laundry workers).
CA Chinese * Mom & kids * Chinese men
Chinese men * Asians
4) African Americans are portrayed mostly in terms of slavery, the Civil War and agrarian or slum conditions. There seem to be few pictures of politicians, business people, doctors, writers, scientists or mathematicians with the exception of Martin Luther King. There are some athletes.
Tend field * Capture * Kansas-guns
Runaway * Escape! * Race riot
"Liberator" * Runaway sl. * Catch slave
Rice field * Cotton bale * Slave sale
Torn apart * Cotton gin * Slave sale
John Brown * Arguing * Black troop
Planting * Attack * Union Army
K. K. Klan * Black vote * Slave auct.
Family * Virg. cabin * Tobacco frm
Plantation * Pick cotton * 14th Amend.
Freedmen * Make sugar * Cotton gin
Cott. press * X-mas South * Effigy
Supervisor * Slave mart * Cotton pick
Blacks-1907 * Radio, 1942 * Potato mig.
Sharecrop * Washing car * GW & slaves
Free? * First slave * Slave ship
5) Native Americans fare no better than the other groups, but they do have the most pictures (other than white males).
Hill view * Custer * Greetings
Ceremony * Winnemucca * SF Peaks
Moundville * Tepees * Bullboats
Buffalo * Fishing * Squanto
Fishing * Trade * Chaco Cany.
Cliff * Cliff home * Snake mound
Land bridge * Sacagawea * Fr.&Indian
Nez Perce * Flat head * Irrigation
Deer hunt * Gold mask * Fur trade
Raid tepees * Glacier NP * Sioux spies
Menominee * Tear Trail * Ariz Canyon
Fort fight * Reservation * Cavalry
Kiowa prisn * Great Plain * Tepees
Warriors * Buffalo * Buff. herd
Village * Lone rider * Sioux
1844 wagons * "Get Away!" * On horse
In pursuit * Warriors * Portraits
Planting * Juan Pardo * Village
Village * Cortes * Greed
Champlain * Dakota tipi * Dead buff.
Tree use * Canvas top * Stone city
While there is much value in the GTV program, a social studies teacher might not realize who is missing. Students might not notice. The history of their country might pass by their eyes with gaping (but invisible) holes.
Without our stopping to recognize it, historians have been cutting and pasting the facts for thousands of years. Figures are deleted. Some are "stretched." Many are inflated. History as served up by the new technologies are not immune.
III. Technology Critique #2
Stopping briefly in a high school library recently, I sat down at the electronic card catalogue and began searching for women poets. To my surprise, the computer thought for a moment and then reported "None" as the results of my search. Was there something wrong with my search strategy? I checked the logic of my Boolean operators and keywords. "Women and Poet?"
Surely Emily was sitting securely on the shelves of this library, I thought to myself. They could not have banished her. And I was right. Search for "Dickinson" and her name popped up with a bunch of other authors.
So! I reacted. They have hidden you from view.
One of the great arguments for electronic card catalogues is their power to support Boolean searching throughout the records, a capability which goes far beyond the old technology (cards) which kept us at the highest levels and categories. What was wrong here?
I took a look at the full record for Emily's collection of poems and discovered why she and her book had eluded my search. The words "women" and "woman" did not appear anywhere in the record. "Her" was the best word I could find to discover a woman. If I had searched for "Her and Poet?" I would have found Emily Dickinson and a half dozen others, but those other ten women poets without "her" in their record would have escaped my search.
How about Black American poets? None. African American poets? None. But Langston Hughes sat smiling just a few shelves down from Emily. "What did you expect?" he seemed to say. "Yeah, chimed in Nikki Giovanni. You missed me both times!"
When I drew the media specialist over to show her my discovery, she explained that "women" was not a heading under Dewey Decimal and should not be expected in the record.
This taught me that paradigms embedded in the old technology were alive and well in the new, much like a computer virus. The company which prepared computer files for school libraries had evidently not stopped to think about how the new technology would be used for a different kind of searching and would therefore require records which supported such search strategies. They took the easy path and simply copied the records and text which had served for half a century.
Those of you who are fortunate enough to work in schools where directories of collections are now computerized might test them in the same way I did and add a few more of your own. Theoretically, many information bites which would have eluded us in the past should now be caught up in the student's Boolean net, but that will only be true if the record for each book is comprehensive.
This high school library had a dozen collections of poetry, many of which contained poems by Dickinson, Hughes and Giovanni, but the records of these anthologies did not contain a listing of the authors. Check out the records in your system and make sure you are getting veritable Boolean searching rather than virtual searching.
IV. Beyond Potential
For the purposes of this article we could replace the old computer maxim with a new one. "Garbage in -- garbage out," becomes, "Nothing in -- nothing out." While technology itself may be neutral, it acts like a sponge to suck up the culture's biases and stereotypes. If we do a good job of teaching students about infotactics and if we teach them to be hypernavigators capable of finding their own truths in the mountains of data available, we would help that they might rise above and beyond those stereotypes, but part of achieving that goal is to train them to see what Ralph Ellison once called The Invisible Man. Even in those mountains of data, as we have seen in this article, certain important facts, faces and images may be missing, excluded, cut out, omitted, deleted and segregated. Our students must learn to look for what is missing as well as what is available.