A picture tells a thousand prejudices: selecting images for global learning

Images are a fantastic way to engage with different kinds of learners and bring extra excitement and imagination to learning content. A powerful aspect of learning, however, is the ‘hidden curriculum': the way in which the unspoken assumptions demonstrated in contexts, language, environments and teaching resources, as well as teacher behaviour, contribute to pupils’ learning.

When thinking through global learning delivery, it’s worth taking time to asses the images you use for prejudicial or implicitly derogatory messages. The general shape of the content on this page is borrowed from the content of the Global Teachers’ award, which is a new project designed to support better global learning in schools (and also have great respect for plastic world-map shower curtains). I have altered it and added my own images and a few ideas.

When you are assessing images for use, ask yourself these questions before selecting an image:

1. If it’s a map, how accurate is the projection? Does it privilege Europe and America? If so, it’s like to be a view of the globe as though we are perched in a satellite looking down from the Northern hemisphere. Using the Peters’ projection is actually a more accurate representation. See more here on how Arno Peters launched his own projection, and why it still raises questions today.

2. Who is missing? If there are numbers of people in a picture, are they all white? Or largely one gender? Is there a lack of representation of ethnic minorities, or both genders, or disability or difference? One of the most empowering things for people who represent minorities is to be represented as being perfectly normal and getting on with real life in the same way as everyone else, carrying their minority status but not having it represented as the most important thing about them.

See the difference between this image of children: 

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and this one:

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3. Beware of seductive photography, which might make things look cleaner, prettier, more perfect than reality. It’s easy to take cute pictures of pretty children, but some images of children better represent the complexity and energy of children in a positive way, without presenting a falsely idealised view.  See below a picture of a group of children:

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and compare with this one:

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 09.54.554. Are some people in an image presented as more important than others, just by their relative size, or sharpness of focus, or closeness to the lens? For example, is the image below making a clear statement about who is the more important member of the couple?

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 10.01.05in the image below, both the men are foregrounded in the image, and are literally larger than the women.

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5. Although these examples are taken in isolation, a diversity of different images reflects reality for your class. It’s useful to see the whole of the collection of images around them: on the walls, in text books and in any flashcards you use with them. You could do a tally of the ratio of men to women, for example or images in which when people are together, the men are seen as larger and more dominant. If you have a few, or a balance reflects reality, but an imbalance in your images will subtly reinforce stereotypes in your pupils’ minds. Similarly, you could count the number of non-white people represented, per the whole number of people.

If you want to give this more thought,  interesting websites on images and critical thinking are here:

1. Adbusters, self-described ‘Culture Jammers’. Most famously they ‘reinterpreted’ the advertising for Calvin Klein’s Obsession advertising in the 90s, where a man was shown carrying a limp naked woman’s body over his shoulder. Adbusters are still going, here’s their site on ‘fashion slashing': https://www.adbusters.org/spoofads/fashion

2. Imaging Famine was a research project carried out a few years ago, following accusations that some charities exploit emotive and decontextualised images of the developing world to grab public attention in the North, without sufficient critical attention to  the ideas diffused through what came to be called ‘poverty porn’. If you’re considering a discussion with pupils about representation, this site contains some great resources: http://www.imaging-famine.org