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Equity Assistance Center

Forms of Bias in Textbooks and Instructional Materials

Invisibility – Certain groups are underrepresented in curricular materials. The significant omission of women and minority groups has become so great as to imply that these groups are of less value, importance and significance in our society.

Stereotyping – By assigning traditional and rigid roles or attributes to a group, instructional materials stereotype and limit the abilities and potential of that group. Stereotyping denies students a knowledge of the diversity, complexity and variation of any group of individuals. Children who see themselves portrayed only in stereotypic ways may internalize those stereotypes and fail to develop their own unique abilities, interests and full potential.

Imbalance and Selectivity – Textbooks perpetuate bias by presenting only one interpretation of an issue, situation or group of people. This imbalanced account restricts the knowledge of students regarding the varied perspectives that may apply to a particular situation. Through selective presentation of materials, textbooks distort reality and ignore complex and differing viewpoints. As a result, millions of students have been given limited perspectives concerning the contributions, struggles and participation of certain groups in society.

Unreality – Textbooks frequently present an unrealistic portrayal of our history and our contemporary life experience. Controversial topics are glossed over and discussions of discrimination and prejudice are avoided. This unrealistic coverage denies children the information they need to recognize, understand and perhaps some day conquer the problems that plague our society.

Fragmentation and Isolation – By separating issues related to minorities and women from the main body of the text, instructional materials imply that these issues are less important than and not a part of the cultural mainstream.

Linguistic Bias – Curricular materials reflect the discriminatory nature of our language. Masculine terms and pronouns, ranging from “our forefathers” to the generic “he,” deny the participation of women in our society. Further, occupations such as “mailman” are given masculine labels that deny the legitimacy of women working in these fields. Imbalance of word order and lack of parallel terms that refer to women and men are also forms of linguistic bias.

Reference: Sadker, M.P. and D.M. Sadker. Sex Equity Handbook for Schools (New York, N.Y.: Longman, Inc., 1982).

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