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Regional bias - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Regional bias
No, I'm not going to talk about dastardly attitudes that different parts of the country have toward one another.

Following footnotes around from One Nation Under Therapy, I found another Diane Ravitch book (she wrote Left Behind: A Century of Failed School Reforms) called The Language Police, which talks about the bias and sensitivity boards assigned to review tests and textbooks. I'm sure I'll have a lot to say, but something brought up in the first chapter struck a chord with me: Reading passages were struck out of tests because of "regional bias." In other words, a passage about dolphins and ships was deemed unfair because kids who lived by the sea might have an advantage over kids who lived inland. Another passage was rejected because it involved hiking and mountain-climbing, and kids who lived near mountains might have an advantage.

I'm not going to get into the issue on tests, though I'm sure there's no one on my f-list who can't guess my opinion (good Lord, everyone lives somewhere... how can you avoid some passages being more related to one environment than another? And wouldn't a wide variety of passages tend to balance it out? And aren't they supposed to glean the information from the comprehension passage anyway?), but the reason it really hit a chord with me is the brutal assumption that kids can't--and shouldn't be encouraged to--look outside of their immediate milieu to understand things. It wipes out so many possibilities. (It also explains why so many young fic writers try to treat Hogwarts like a suburban junior high... after all, there is no other place!)

Unfortunately, it seems pervasive. When I was little, I lived in a small town, but my city-girl mother would go bugheaded if she couldn't get back into the city now and then, and she wanted me to know what it was like to be in a city and how people lived in cities. I think this was a good practice, no matter what her motivations (she laughs at the notion that it was ever anything more than her attempt to escape Perry).

Now, I wish people would apply it in the other direction.

Have a look at the icon I'm using on this post. Nice little forest scene. I use it in writing classes--write a scene explaining what this place is, how you got there, and what you're going to do. Kids have speculated that there are piranha in the stream, that it's off the map, that it's "someplace no black kid has ever been," that it's a jungle. A picture of a choo-choo train--a steam engine on a track, rather than a subway train--was deemed "creepy."

These kids don't need an outward-bound, counsellor-guided camp experience. They need to buy corn from a roadside stand and maybe walk around in a cornfield sometime. Walk from one end of town to the other in twenty minutes. Just see that it's a place that exists. And if they can't actually go, why not read a story set there? I don't recall being damaged by reading stories set in cities, and no one seems overly fussed about reading stories about a boy in a private boarding school in the Scottish highlands.

But people aren't asking them to read these things. Heaven knows what they're asking them to read in country schools now--small town readers, do you still read urban stories? The Outsiders, maybe? Do you watch West Side Story while reading Romeo and Juliet?

How are people ever going to have any kind of understanding of other world cultures--a professed goal of this kind of "tolerant" education--if they can't even be expected to understand how people live at the next stop up the commuter rail?
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Comments
super_pan From: super_pan Date: October 3rd, 2005 09:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
My mother taught inner city children (many years ago) who genuinely did not understand the concept of a yard. Dick and Jane and their yard did not apply to their life. While education certainly should expose students to the many environments in this country, when it comes to tests, some things should not be assumed.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 3rd, 2005 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
If the information needed to comprehend the passage isn't in the passage, then that's problematic. But the whole point of reading comprehension is that you're supposed to get the information out of the passage. Therefore, if the concept of a "yard" is important to the question, then the passage should include enough information to glean that it's a grassy area in front of or behind the house, eg, "He went out the back door into the yard, which was fenced in so the dog couldn't get out. The grass was freshly cut." That's enough as a reading comp passage that kids should understand what it means. If they don't, then they haven't mastered reading comprehension, and that's a way bigger problem than "bias." You could use totally made up words in a reading comp passage, eg, "He stepped through the aeorengef and went out into the klempt, which was enclosed by a chickenwire ehrdenbrach so the kinnetka couldn't go out and play in traffic. The reshtafil was freshly cut, and felt good under his feet." The point of a reading comp passage is that the person being tested should be able to recognize what's happening based on context. The multiple choice answers for "What does 'kinetka' mean?" shouldn't include "children" "dog" or "cat," but should be more along the line of "a small child or pet," "a plant" or "a rock."

And the fact that inner city kids don't know what a yard is would tell me that something has been totally unacceptable in their education. You don't need to experience a thing to know what it is. I knew what a high-rise was and was familiar with the concept of taxis and city buses, and would certainly be expected to know such things. There's no excuse whatsoever for city kids to be kept ignorant of life outside of the city, any more than there's any excuse for country kids not to know city life.
laureate05 From: laureate05 Date: October 4th, 2005 02:45 am (UTC) (Link)
But the whole point of reading comprehension is that you're supposed to get the information out of the passage.

Thank you. That's just it. That's all there is. Serious consideration should be given to if the needed information is provided in the selection, but wtf? If you're really so concerned about regional bias, just set things in a school. If you're taking the test, you should know about school. If not, then well...I can't finish this sentence without being insulting.
erised1810 From: erised1810 Date: October 3rd, 2005 10:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
thats' talkgi nfor other people, thinking forthe meven. hat's a bit mroe hurtful than 'i only meantto do right'. hat's awya of sparigng someone adn ugh..i jsut hatei t whe nsomeone anywhere inan ysituation assumes peopel won't udnerstand it. 'oh icoudl go onaobutthis buty ouwont' geti tanyway.' hello? I'l ask youQUESTIONS if I wont' folow it.
I jstu enver expected boards to design exams onthis-one..yikes.
merlinssister12 From: merlinssister12 Date: October 3rd, 2005 11:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Am I missing something? I always thought the whole point in an education was to learn things. In geography are you not supposed to learn about other socio-economic areas of not only the world but also your own country or state/province. In history don't you learn about the history of not only your own city or town, but also your state, your country and the world. Crossing out reading passages based on a "regional bias" only limits someones education.
Were these passages only in English texts and tests? If they were don't they contradict the rest of a students education? Seems very perverse. If this is the case I am glad my family has moved as often as we have because my kids have lived in the country, in the city, in the prairies and near the sea.


persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: October 3rd, 2005 11:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well... to be fair, reading comprehension tests are not supposed to test you on whether you have learned about other regions of the world.

To be equally fair, however, they are supposed to test you on whether you understood what was communicated in the passage, not on any outside knowledge of the topic of the passage. In fact, I seem to recall reading comprehension tests that included specific instructions to disregard anything I knew about the topic that wasn't in the passage. There are, I think, some passages where if you dropped "According to this reading passage..." from the beginning of a question, the correct answer would change dramatically.
merlinssister12 From: merlinssister12 Date: October 3rd, 2005 11:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay, I flunk the reading comprehension test, for missing the point that this was about reading comprehension tests. However, to eliminate something from a reading comprehension test because it is outside of someones expected imperical knowledge is an insult to that persons intelligence. Often the passages, if they contain facts, are out of date anyway, so I still say why bother removing the ones that have a "regional bias?"
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: October 4th, 2005 04:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, yeah. Part of the point I meant to make (which I think ended up a bit muddled) was actually supposed to be that outside knowledge was in some cases likely to lead you wrong even if you had it right -- as you say, some passages are out of date, or they're deliberately presenting a counterfactual or just slanted idea. And Fern's was partly what you just said, so. *grin*
From: andra_dodger Date: October 3rd, 2005 11:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

I disagree... sort of

It does limit people's education to only have to answer questions about their region, but I think the only solution is to ensure a balance in the questions.

So, if the only regional distinction the test writers had to worry about was city vs. country, they would make sure that there were an equal number of passages set in the city and country to make the test fair. Although it's true that city folk should know about country folk and vice versa, you can't ignore that people from one area will always be at an advantage when answering questions about things set in their area.

You're right, every question is set somewhere, so I think it probably isn't true that test writers who care about regional bias want to take out every question that has a setting. I think they just want to make sure that there is a balance so that no one group is privileged over another.

Oddly, that seems what you are advocating when you say in your original post: "wouldn't a wide variety of passages tend to balance it out?"

I just think that your opinion and the opinions of people who want to consider regional bias aren't that far apart, and I don't think it's true that taking regional bias into account on standardized tests would prevent people from being exposed to other settings / perspectives.

Andra
P.S. I'm new to the whole LJ thing, so if it was rude to comment on your personal journal (and leave such a long post), I'm sorry. I'm not trying to be rude; I just don't know all the netiquette yet. :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 3rd, 2005 11:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I disagree... sort of

It's not at all rude. :)

My position is different because what they are advocating isn't balancing the questions, but removing them. Removing anything that has any regional concept to it. They don't add the passage about mountains to a passage about the passage about dolphins; they expunge both of them entirely.
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: October 3rd, 2005 11:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Personally I find this attitude imbecilic. What is the point of an education? A)to become educated B)to be able to pass standardised tests? Tick one *eyeroll*
(Deleted comment)
olympe_maxime From: olympe_maxime Date: October 4th, 2005 03:25 am (UTC) (Link)
I grew up in India, but on a steady diet of non-native English books (when I was a kid it was Enid Blytons, later it was Sidney Sheldons and Jeffrey Archers). I had was so utterly at sea sometimes with all the references to things that weren't in my experience - especially the food. I'd never even heard of gingerbread and ham sandwiches and popsicles (which I knew by another name altogether). Heck I didn't even know what a baked potato looked like, I didn't know anybody who owned an oven. (The way Blyton described the Famous Five waxing lyrical about their food, I thought all of this stuff was blindingly delicious - and of course, now I find that it all tastes very bland and boring to my Indian palate.)


Living in USA has been so much more interesting because I knew of things here, and now I finally have experiences to match the words in my head. Snow! Hot dogs! Suburbia! ...I've had more *ping* moments in the past year than any other, I think.


olympe_maxime From: olympe_maxime Date: October 4th, 2005 03:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Er.. also.. I found the piranhas-lurking-just-outside-the-frame idea quite cool. But I guess it's different that the kid made the remark out of ignorance rather than any sort of creative thinking.
dalf From: dalf Date: October 5th, 2005 05:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Amen!

Two things:

* You teach writing classes? (Cool)

* (It also explains why so many young fic writers try to treat Hogwarts like a suburban junior high... after all, there is no other place!)

I was unaware that this needed to be explained. From talking to various family members who teach (or have taught) Jr. High as well as my own experience it was my understanding that some level of blind selfcenteredness was a defining characteristic of the age range 13-15.
spellingwitch From: spellingwitch Date: October 9th, 2005 06:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
What's One Nation Under Therapy and was it good?
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