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Module Four - Types of Bias

What are the main filters that might block students from a truthful view of a place? How can students learn to look beyond these filters?

Compare and contrast the filters listed below. Which is most apt to distort or block the understanding of your students? Rank them from most threatening to least threatening and be prepared to vote your choice of Number One.

Type of Bias Description
Propaganda Information is carefully selected to create impressions about the quality of life for citizens. This kind of biased treatment of information is also intended to sway decisions by appealing to the emotions (fears, dreams, etc.) Propaganda often uses partial truths, exaggeration and related tactics to stir an audience. The source of propaganda is usually a political group, the government itself or some interest group with an ax to grind.
Marketing Marketing may use some of the same tactics as propaganda, but it is motivated usually by market place interests, trying to sell products and experiences. Propaganda is more about selling ideas and action proposals. Marketing shapes information to satisfy the dreams, wishes and needs of the consumer. In an effort to win tourist confidence, for example, a city might play down any recent problems with street crime.
Class How we see or report the world may differ according to our place in that society. A judge or banker might live high on a hill and see life from up in the clouds while a street sweeper might have a different perspective, different air quality and different water quality.

If the reporter is content with life and her/his position within the society, the resulting stories and information may be slanted by those attitudes and life experiences. Insulated from the suffering and difficulties of life at the bottom of the social pyramid, the reporter may describe the city through "rose tinted glasses."

Conversely, someone with much life experience at the bottom of the pyramid may devote all of their attention to the slime, pollution and social problems that bombard them day after day. Roses? It may have been a long time since they have had a chance to smell or see them.

Ethnocentrism There is always some danger that we will read or translate information through the blinders, lenses and attitudes of our own culture. Our students may be locked into the values of their own town or group or nation. They may a bit swift to judge other groups or cultures from a superior vantage point. They may not view the new and different culture as a potential source of inspiration.

Related to this might be the creation of information about a foreign city or country by our own country fellows - an Australian view of San Antonio, a Canadian view of New York, an American view of Hong Kong. The source may not employ local people to create the information at all.

Smart chefs allow for fusion. They allow the influence of other cultures to enrich their own.

Ignorance Much less intentional than the previous types of bias would be information flawed by the creator's lack of background knowledge, training, expertise and judgment. Some people do not know what they do not know. They pose as an authority without owning any of the qualities that should accompany that status. Anyone can create a Web site and pretend to know something.
Can we encourage our students to challenge the authority and value of the information resources they encounter, whether they be print, analog, digital or spoken?

Some of our best thinkers have been working on this challenge:

Kathy Schrock has collected a list of the best models. (click here)

And we began this workshop looking at the Veracity Model.

Next Module. Please do not move to the next module until your group leaders ask you to do so.

© 2002, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.
Photographs also © 2002, Jamie McKenzie.