Social Education 58(3), 1994, pp. 156-158
National Council for the Social Studies

Making Every Picture Count:Ethnicity in Primary Grade Textbook Photographs

Karen L. Denton and Sharon Pray Muir
The civil rights movement of the 1960s raised Americans' awareness of and sensitivity toward racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. Textbooks-a principal source of social studies learning-have increasingly over time reflected a multicultural perspective.
Since the 1960s, researchers have evaluated the treatment of minorities in the narrative content of textbooks, especially at the secondary level. Some studies have also considered the treatment of ethnic minorities at the elementary level. Studies of basal readers, for example, have examined the culture and socioeconomic status of story characters and the extent to which stories address minority issues (Grant and Grant 1981; Logan and Garcia 1982; Garcia and Florez-Tighe 1986).

A smaller number of studies have looked at the pictorial portrayal of minorities. At the secondary level, Garcia and Woodrick (1979) studied graphic representations in United States history textbooks; at the elementary level, Powell and Garcia (1985) investigated pictorial representation of ethnic groups in science textbooks.

Research suggests that using multicultural materials with students has positive cognitive and affective results. Campbell and Wirtenberg's (1980) review of twelve studies revealed that reading multicultural literature improved attitudes toward one's own and other cultures at the same time that it increased students' reading comprehension, word recognition, oral reading, or motivation.

As a consequence, state departments of education set guidelines to foster multicultural perspectives. For example, the California standards (1982) for evaluating instructional materials addressed ethnic portrayals in two of its guidelines. One standard states that "references to, or illustrations of, people must portray accurately the roles and contributions of a fair proportion of diverse ethnic groups" (10). The other standard speaks to occupational depictions of ethnic groups. It cautions that "if professional or executive roles, trade jobs, or other gainful occupations are portrayed, majority and minority groups should be presented therein in fair proportion" (10). The California definition of fair proportion is the percentage in which groups occur in the current population. The standard also warns against the over-representation of stereotypical occupations associated with ethnicity or race. It urges publishers to avoid stereotypes such as "Mexican-American farm laborers, Japanese gardeners, Chinese laundry workers, or African-American domestic servants" (11). Such stereotypes, according to the standard, should be used "very sparingly and should be balanced by references to the same group in other occupations" (11).

We believe studies of pictorial representations are most pertinent at the elementary level, especially in the early grades. Instruction in grades K-3 often relies on pictures to communicate content to young readers. Young children form concepts and generalizations about the portrayed subjects as they look at pictures. This article reports the results of a study (Denton 1991) of graphic portrayals, primarily of African Americans, in three contemporary K-3 social studies textbook series.1

The descriptive research design sought to determine the incidence of graphics representing African Americans as well as the portrayal of them in various roles. Denton developed instruments and coding rules for classifying and tabulating photographs. She also drew relevant criteria for analysis from studies of, or guidelines for, ethnic portrayals in instructional materials. Photograph coding indicated ethnicity represented in individual or group photographs (Grant 1985), for both variety (Powell and Garcia 1985) and kinds (Britton 1977) of occupations, and by active or passive engagement (Garcia and Woodrick 1979). An initial attempt to identify types of families was abandoned since the kinship of adults and caregivers in graphics was too ambiguous. Race and roles depicted in artists' illustrations also were ambiguous, which resulted in limiting the study to photographs.

The three contemporary K-3 social studies series contained 1,144 photographs portraying people. Of the total photographs, 68 percent contained European Americans, 25 percent African Americans, and 23 percent "Other Minorities."2 The ethnicity or race of 7 percent was ambiguous (see Table 1). Using the California standard, the proportion of minorities was more than twice its incidence in the national population. However, that rate of representation is disproportionately small for children in most urban schools or in regions with high ethnic concentrations.

European Americans and Other Minorities appeared in consistent percentages across the four grades. Portrayals of African Americans, however, varied considerably by grade level. Almost twice as many African Americans were portrayed in textbooks used in grades K-1 than in materials used in grade 3.

Individuals and Groups
As children pursue the goals of social studies education, they are exposed to biographies of individuals. At the same time, social studies education seeks to foster interaction in groups, as is implied in the name of the content area: social studies. Although photographs portrayed both individuals and groups, it seemed appropriate that photographs of groups outnumbered those of individuals almost 2 to 1.

Ethnicity in photographs of individuals was striking. European Americans were featured in 59 percent of the individual photographs, whereas African Americans and Other Minorities each appeared in approximately 15 percent of the photographs containing individuals. In other words, the proportion of individual European Americans in photographs outnumbered African Americans and Other Minorities each by a ratio of 4:1. Even though that ratio exceeds reality (i.e., 3.42:1) only slightly, publishers could attempt to increase the number of minorities in photographs of individuals.

The United States government has promoted integration judicially and legislatively since the inception of the civil rights movement. Yet the three series contained more than twice as many photographs of segregated as integrated groups.

Proportions in segregated group photos approximated census data. European Americans dominated (63 percent in textbooks versus 74 percent in actual population); Other Minorities followed (22 percent versus 13.5 percent); and African Americans appeared rarely (11 percent versus 12.6 percent). Among integrated photographs, half portrayed African Americans interacting with European Americans. In fact, European Americans appeared in almost all of the integrated photos. Instances of minorities interacting with minorities (i.e., without the presence of European Americans) were extremely rare. Portrayals of that kind are inconsistent with the social composition of many inner-city neighborhoods. Such photographs also may mislead young children to believe that the presence of European Americans is essential or appropriate in all social groups.

This study considered the number of different occupations rather than repeated portrayals in the same occupation. That approach was based on the assumption that it is more powerful to depict ethnicity in many different roles than it is to portray it repeatedly in a few occupations.3 African Americans and Other Minorities appeared in many fewer occupations (N=38 and 25, respectively) than European Americans (N=94).

We categorized occupations as unskilled, skilled, and professional.4 The three series portrayed 119 different occupations. African Americans were depicted in fewer unskilled roles than Other Minorities, and both groups were depicted in many fewer unskilled roles than European Americans (see Table 2). European Americans dominated in the number of skilled occupations, whereas African Americans were represented in fewer than one-third. The number of skilled occupations portraying Other Minorities was negligible. Among professions, European Americans were depicted in twice as many occupations as African Americans and in three times as many as Other Minorities. In general, these three textbook series did not include many specific occupational stereotypes, such as minority farm workers. However, they could further counter stereotypes by portraying ethnic minorities in a greater variety of skilled and professional roles.

Activity and Passivity
Literature from gender studies contends that portrayals in educational materials may influence children's socialization and expectations about assertiveness or subservience (Garcia and Woodrick 1979). Denton (1991) looked at those characteristics only in photographs containing African Americans and European Americans. Using Garcia and Woodrick's research design (1979), she contrasted occurrences in which ethnic characters were engaged actively (e.g., working, playing) or passively (e.g., watching, listening). Although active roles dominated the photographs across the three series, pupils would encounter twice as many European Americans in active roles as African Americans. Teachers and publishers should become more aware of potential messages that are conveyed through such unbalanced portrayals.

Because children in the primary grades are not yet pro&Mac222;cient readers of print, photographs and illustrations comprise a substantial portion of their reading content. It is important that all youngsters develop positive images of various cultures, especially in their formative years. It is equally important that ethnic children be able to view pictorial representations of their groups frequently and in nonstereotyped roles and situations. The publishers whose textbooks were used in this study as well as other publishers should try to increase their photographic representations of minorities who: a) interact in integrated groups, especially minorities with other minorities; b) are employed in skilled and professional occupations; and c) are engaged in active roles.

We urge teachers in the primary grades to study the photographs that appear in their social studies materials. Teachers also will need to supplement their instruction with other visual aids that represent ethnic groups in positive ways. They may need to design instructional activities that augment textbooks if they wish to expose children to more varied role models.

These recommendations are important not only in multiracial schools but also in schools with monocultural populations, which are often deprived of direct encounters with ethnic diversity. Although publishers have become increasingly sensitive in their selection of photographs of ethnic minorities, they should strive to make every picture count.

1 The three series were those published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1988), Houghton Mifflin (1991), and Scott Foresman (1991). The study, available through interlibrary loan from Oakland University, contains nine tables that analyze data by series and report them more thoroughly than is possible in this article.

2 Although the article identifies cultural groups as Americans, no attempt was made in the study to distinguish between residents and non-residents of the United States. Thus, "Other Minorities" includes both Asian Americans and Asians, Mexican Americans and Mexicans, etc.

3 Comparisons cannot be made to Bureau of Labor statistics because the study counted numbers of occupations whereas Bureau of Labor reports repeated occurrences within the same occupation.

4 The six U.S. Bureau of Labor categories (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1991) were combined for the purpose of simplicity as unskilled (operators, fabricators, and laborers; farming, forestry, and fishing); skilled (service occupations; precision production, craft, and repair); and professional (managerial and professional specialty; technical, sales, and administrative support).

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Karen L. Denton teaches in the Pontiac, Michigan, public school system. Sharon Pray Muir is professor of education in the School of Education and Human Services at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan.
Editor's Note: This article was accepted for publication in 1992.