There has been a fight on the playground. Two of your best friends, Maddie and Rachel, are lying on the ground, faces down, backs to each other. They both leap up and tell you the other girl punched them in the back of the head. You have no clue what happened. You weren't watching. The teacher is on his way across the yard to ask what happened. Both of your friends ask you to back them up, saying the other attacked them. You can't turn back the clock and watch what happened. You have to figure it out based on what they tell you. How can you tell which friend is right? This is a problem people who study history face every single day. What stories do we trust and which ones do we ignore and why?
This is hard. You need to listen to two different stories and choose which one is right. Whoever you believe will end up looking good and whoever you don't believe will end up in a lot of trouble. In history, a source
is the place from which you hear (or read) a telling of what happened. Right now, you have two sources: your two friends, Maddie and Rachel. They both say that the other person hit them in the back of the head, making them fall over. Sounds fishy to me. Someone has to be lying.
When someone tells you a story, they can only tell you what happened in one way. They're telling you what happened through their eyes . . . or they're lying and telling you what they want you to believe happened. A perspective
is a way of looking at something; it's a point of view. Here we have two different perspectives. Two girls. Two knocks to the back of their heads. Each story tells you the other kid did it. These perspectives do not agree with each other. You're lucky, because you can look at both stories from the outside by listening to what they both say. From my perspective, I don't think you shouldn't trust either of their stories.
There are two ways of telling a story. Someone can tell you what they really think happened. Or they can tell what you want they want you to think happened. If one of Maddie's good friends is asked by the teacher what happened, they will say that it's not Maddie's fault. They don't want Maddie to get in trouble and they want to be a good friend. A bias
is when someone prefers one side of a story over another, usually because it will help them. Of course, both of your friends have a bias: they both do not want to get in trouble.
Maddie might be biased because she always gets into trouble and could get kicked out of the school if she gets in trouble again. Rachel might be biased because she has never been in trouble and wants to keep her perfect record. So, looking at your two friends, can you tell which one has a bias? Do they both? In history, the different sides of a war might tell the story in a way that makes them look like the hero. Everyone wants to look good! So . . . who's the hero here?
One of the most valuable things you can do as a listener is to ask questions. One of the best questions you can ask yourself is, "What does each of your friends have to gain by lying?" Will lying help Rachel or Maddie in some way? Intent
is the reason for doing something; it's why people do things. Looking back at history, we can see many reasons for leaders of countries to lie. They want their people to believe that the other country they're attacking is filled with sad, dirty people who cannot take care of themselves. But if you look closely, you will see the leaders want to take the gold from that country. What could your friends' reason for hitting each other be? Is Maddie jealous of Rachel's school record? Or was Rachel just mad at Maddie for a second and knew because she had a perfect record she could get away with hitting her? Who hit whom in the back of the head?!
The answer is . . . I did it. Yes, the guy who wrote this article hit both of your friends in the backs of their heads . . . But it was an accident. I swear. I was walking with this long pole when . . . BONK BONK! I didn't want to get in trouble so I ran away while they were on the ground and then came back at the perfect time to tell you all of this. I was your source on this story, the person who told you everything that happened. I gave you a perspective that only showed you your two friends . . . Not me. I did this because I was biased; I did not want to get into trouble. My intent for telling you all of this was to take the focus off of me and get one of your friends in trouble instead. See how this works? History can be tricky. Be careful when trusting a source! Be careful with what you read! Oh, and . . . don't tell the teacher on me, okay? Reference:
Middleweb. "Teaching Students to Recognize Bias" Middleweb, 2011. <http://www.middleweb.com/12863/teaching-history-students-recognize-bias/