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In my situation, our school had us talk about racial justice and the teacher asked everybody to be respectful and have an open mind. He then presented a slideshow (Fairly sure it wasn’t made by him), which he explained in a very biased way (not biased as in false information, but biased as in explaining information in a way that is meant to lead people to draw the wrong conclusions). Most students seem to agree with the teacher, and share his bias. How do I effectively challenge the teacher's bias without coming off as a jerk to the rest of my classmates?

Some information that might be relevant:

  • I live in Minnesota, in the United States
  • I am in 8th grade, which is middle school in my school district
  • It was a science teacher teaching this lesson
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    Did you (or any of your classmates) ever try to challenge a bias from a/this teacher before? What did you/they do, and what happened? If you haven't, what were you thinking of doing, and why do you think the teacher would still find you a jerk for doing so? – Tinkeringbell Apr 21 at 18:43
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    @Tinkeringbell I haven’t tried to challenge the teacher yet, and nobody else in my class has either. I don’t think the teacher would think I am a jerk, I think my classmates would think I am a jerk because most of them agree with the teacher and middle schoolers aren’t very nice people. – Ekadh Singh Apr 21 at 19:04
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    @Peter what my teacher did was assume that the reason that more African-Americans were in jail was because of a flaw in the justice system, not because of something else. He then voiced this assumption to the whole class. What he did was chalk up the entire problem to systemic racism, instead of knowing that there could be other reasons African Americans would be in jail. – Ekadh Singh Apr 23 at 13:14
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    @EkadhSingh - The teacher asked "“what does this tell you about our justice system?". Wasn't he doing his job, by getting the pupils to answer that question (in various ways) and discuss it? The answers could range from "It tells the system is racist" via "it tells us nothing" to "the discussion needs to widen out". – Michael Harvey Apr 26 at 20:11
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    Couldn't you simply put your hand up and say, "I agree this could be caused by a biased justice system, but couldn't it also be caused by African Americans more often growing up in socioeconomic contexts which make people more likely to commit a crime" (or whatever other explanation you have in mind). I don't exactly see why providing an additional explanation would make your classmates think you're a jerk, except of course if you provided an explanation that was racist, or if anyone who asks questions is deemed a jerk by your classmates. – Pascal Apr 28 at 23:58
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Although this concept was a bit foreign to me when I was your age I came later adult to adopt a stance where I consider people may believe what they want to believe as long as they mean no harm to me. I previously thought but no longer think people are "wrong" or "biased", they just believe what their experience taught them. Life taught me if someone has views about how things should or should not be that I disagree with, their view is as valid as mine, meaning by this my entitlement to be adamantly stubborn (that I use without restriction) is simply equal to theirs.

So, first and foremost, I would question the idea that there is something worth efforts of this challenge, when even the coldest truth and the most brilliant demonstrations can just be dismissed by the back of his hand saying "Well, I believe otherwise".

You also mention your goal in the comments as follow:

I would like the teacher to stop saying false information to reduce the amount of conformation bias going on in my class.

(Even though you mentioned in the OP the information to be factually correct - but that's not the point)

It's not clear whether the end goal is to convince your classmates; or to convince the teacher; or to simply be heard and understood in your anger and your disagreement, but it's fairly clear to me you can't stop a teacher to say what he'd like to say unless you involve some academic instance to complain about the fact he's been out of the line, which he didn't seem to be.

If you would like to sway people your side however, would that be the teacher or the classmates, you can do that through argumentation and there are some techniques to learn to be effective. I bolded my favorites, which are in my experience counter-intuitively effective to influence people:

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Use facts as evidence for your position.
  3. Ask questions.
  4. Use logic. Show how one idea follows another.
  5. Appeal to higher values.
  6. Listen carefully.
  7. Be prepared to concede a good point.
  8. Study your opponent. Know their strengths, weaknesses, beliefs and values.
  9. Look for a win-win.

If you argue with your teacher, and because of the class imperatives on teaching, you probably need to request an appointment with your teacher as you will likely not be able to prove a point during normal class. It may also help not to worry about voicing an unpopular opinion in front of your other classmates.

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    One thing I'd suggest also: note where you agree. Doing this initially can have this come from a point of commonality instead of being seen as opposition. I can't say this enough: I completely agree with point 7 and think it's critical to a reasoned discussion. Too many people in discussions are unable to do this; the feeling is "we disagree, so everything you say is wrong". That's no way to convince anyone to do anything and only serves to harden other positions. – baldPrussian Apr 22 at 14:48
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    A good answer, but beware of false balance. "Spaghetti is the best thing ever" vs. "Pizza is the best thing ever" might be equally valid points. But "women should be allowed to vote" vs. "women shouldn't be allowed to vote" might make you reconsider if, really, the other side isn't wrong after all. In those cases you should try to establish common ground as basis of a discussion, like "we want to protect human rights", or "we are looking for empirical scientific facts". If you don't share a common framework for your value statements, a discussion will be futile. – Jan Niklas Fingerle Apr 22 at 16:13
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    False balance is important but assumptions and culture are critical as well. To take @JanNiklasFingerle 's point: there are places in the world where women aren't allowed to vote and if you were to posit that, you'd be told you are wrong and the basis for your point would be rejected. We in the West accept that by default but other places don't. – baldPrussian Apr 22 at 19:03
  • I would be careful about number 4 Use logic. It could sound like Ben Shapiro and he is absolutely hated but a lot of people. – Gabriel Diego Apr 23 at 6:42
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    @ArthurHv The flat earth example might seem harmless (even though I would argue that it undermines a fact based world view, which is the basis of many evils), but there are some "opinions" that can be linked directly to the mistreatment of other humans. Most people will not accept those as equal in principle to their own opinion, and for good reason. – Jan Niklas Fingerle Apr 23 at 12:53
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In light of what you have added in the comments:

What my teacher did was assume that the reason that more African-Americans were in jail was because of a flaw in the justice system, not because of something else.

I would strongly disagree with the accepted answer and advise you to let it go. Given the current political climate in the United States, questioning whether the US judicial system systematically disadvantages African Americans is not a good idea and instead of changing your teacher's or your classmates minds you are more likely to get yourself reprimanded or (depending on what point exactly you're trying to argue) seriously damage relationships with your teachers or fellow students.

I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you'd prefer if your teacher had said something like:

"The main cause of higher incarceration rates of black Americans is poverty and marginalization due to centuries of systemic oppression".

I'm not going to go into whether or not that is true, i.e. to what extent this is a more important factor than judicial injustice (which definitely exists as well) because this is a complicated problem and research is not entirely conclusive.

In any case, because this is such a delicate issue, especially now, if you are not very careful with how you present your point you risk positioning yourself as someone who disagrees with the notion that certain ethnic groups are systemically and heavily disadvantaged (even if that is not your intention). I would argue that this risk is not worth the potential minor correction to your teachers arguments.

I can attest to this from personal experience since I grew up in Germany, where both history and politics classes are focused around the countries troubled past and its relationship with the present. Especially with the rise of far right political parties in recent years, more and more students might now question the status quo with respect to e.g. the treatment of minorities within Germany because radical viewpoints are becoming more normalized. As one can guess, these sort of discussions never end well, in the best case the students in question change their minds, in the worst they alienate themselves from their communities.

So in light of this, I think at most you should ask your teacher to privately clarify what he meant when he held his presentation and maybe ask him to add a bit more nuance to some points. I would very much advise you to not outright debate him or involve the rest of the class.

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    Yeah bringing it up by arguing with everyone might paint me in the wrong picture as a white supremacist... – Ekadh Singh Apr 24 at 13:21
  • @Peter I have a hard time understanding how you differ from my answer. I did challenge the interest of debating, did advise to tread carefully when debating, did not advise to debate in open class if that's not clear. Is there anything I can do to clarify more ? – Arthur Hv Apr 26 at 13:02
  • @ArthurHv I think with the added information the answer to the question of whether to debate this is not a maybe or a probably not but a definite no, I just wanted to make that clear. – Peter Apr 26 at 19:09

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