The Irish – A Lesson in Bias – Seeing Bias in Historical Cartoons

I teach a little bit of Irish history every year.  Even though it’s not really in the seventh grade curriculum anymore (except for the fact that the Irish helped build the Erie Canal), I still sneak in a day to discuss Irish immigration.  Many of my students have Irish heritage, so they are easily interested in the subject.  For some reason, they find the darkness of the famine really compelling.

I also make sure to discuss how the Irish were seen by native Americans when they first arrived.  Without fail, my students are incredibly surprised to find out that the Irish were not seen as members of the white race.  One year, I had a student who kept saying  “but my skin burns in the sun!”  I have my classes analyze cartoons portraying the Irish with garish stereotypes.  The students realize that the way the Irish were treated had very little to do with how they actually looked or acted.

I really like to use this lesson as a way to introduce the concept of bias.  Because many of my students are Irish, the stereotypes are quite obvious when they look at the cartoons.  I have them identify the exaggeration, the sarcasm, the stereotypes, and any symbolism by labeling each on the cartoons.  Historically speaking political cartoons have always been difficult for my students.  Even my AP students struggle with understanding the message presented.  I’m interested to see if this lesson sticks in their minds through the years, and I’ll keep working with them to analyze the particular characteristics.

Then, I have them simply google “political cartoons” on their Chromebooks or smart phones for their exit ticket.  They have to find three examples of the strategies utilized by cartoonists in modern political cartoons.  Of course, everyone was immediately excited to be able to use their phones in class.  Still, they also were learning.  Instead of just giggling at the cartoons, they were really analyzing.  I had students showing each other the cartoons that they found.  I taught this lesson on a Friday, and the students were so engrossed that they didn’t notice that the bell was about to ring!

This lesson in available in my TpT store at Irish Famine – Irish Immigration – Irish Immigrants – Examining Bias in Cartoons.  Check it out, and let me know what you think!



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