Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Education's Role in Fighting Media Disinformation...?

“The increasingly blatant nature of the nonsense uttered with impunity in public discourse is chilling. Our democratic society is imperiled as much by this as any other single threat, regardless of whether the origins of the nonsense are religious fanaticism, simple ignorance or personal gain.”

This quote caught my eye this morning while perusing my unread RSS feeds. My first thought was, "Exactly! This has gotten completely out of hand. I can't STAND to read or hear the news anymore." I finished reading the Scientific American article, War is Peace: Can Science Fight Media Disinformation? I was hoping to gain some clarity as to how I might prevent myself, my colleagues, my children, my friends and my students from getting hypnotized by media disinformation.

And then it hit me. "Wait. This article in and of itself can be an example of media disinformation, at least in certain areas!" It was actually fun for me to recognize this so quickly. (As I age, I can't tell if I'm getting wiser or just more cynical!) An article in Scientific American would likely provide any reader the comfort of being reliable, being accurate, being "true." After all, it is science, right?

The article contains much to ponder. For instance, the author implies that perhaps free and open access to information, through the internet and 24-hour news programs, is bad. I suppose there might be a point where I would agree, but those reasons would be outside the scope of this post. Instead, I find it very important to allow free access to ideas, even the ideas I personally believe to be false, hypocritical, and/or idiotic. And I, too, have always been curious as to how people get drawn into a seemingly simplistic debate, particularly one rooted in drama rather than evidence. But the one question that really got my reflective juices flowing was, "What makes people so susceptible to nonsense in public discourse?"

And therein lies the key, at least for me. "What makes people..."

If we really want to determine how our life-positions (for me...parent, wife, teacher, friend) can help nurture more intelligent discourse, the answer is not to shut down information. It is rather in providing an honest perspective on the information being considered. And this is challenging. Not only should we ask the "who, what, when, where, how, and why." We must also consider,
"Why do I want to (or not want to) believe, agree, disagree, etc.? From where am I drawing this desire to jump on board (or argue against) a particular stance?"

Students come to our classroom with life experiences. Parents bring their own historical perspective to every conversation with their children. And teachers are PEOPLE. Whether subconsciously or self-aware, we see what we see, feel what we feel, believe what we believe for a reason.

We must be up front about our "life curriculum," especially to ourselves, if we want to have meaningful, constructive, intelligent dialogue. For instance, to make the assumption that an educator, regardless of grade or subject matter, can stand up in front of her class and just "present the facts," or that a parent can be "completely objective" with her child's struggles, is ridiculous. And this mentality is the root of the problem causing the posed craziness in the original question above.

So what can we do? Be honest. Teach one another how to scrutinize information through multiple lenses. Maintain an open-mind, particularly when examining the why and how behind your thinking. Remain open to the idea that some of the most foundational thoughts you have are open for discussion. Your life curriculum is the basis for every interaction you have, as it is for all those whose paths you cross. It is in being aware of this "data" that true growth can begin.

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