Fake News vs. Education

by Jeff Camp | December 9, 2016 | 0 Comments
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Image: Last Call CC Thomas Hawk

Fake News about Schools

The 2016 presidential campaign generated many "teachable moments" for parents, teachers and students. Among the lessons: Don't be gullible.

Incredible Fact! Did you know the word "gullible" actually doesn't appear in the dictionary? Seriously, Look it up!

America's founders bet their lives on the idea that, with the support of a free press, the people would be savvy enough to select their own leaders. It was a radical, complex idea made freshly possible by literacy. Many colonial Americans could read, and apparently rather well: Thomas Paine's Common Sense, the smash best-seller of 1776, is not exactly a work of breezy prose.

Spreading Truth, Faster

A professional calligrapher, Jacob Shallus, inked the famous signed copy of the US Constitution on animal hide. The founding fathers tattooed their signatures onto it with a quill dipped in ink. It's lovely, but few actually saw it. The words and ideas of the constitution were able to spread because they were printed. Copies were produced one sheet at a time, on paper produced one leaf at a time. But it was fast enough; the printed word could travel faster than ever before.

The colonists were eager readers. Printing was such a fast-expanding business in early America that publishers consistently worried about running short of rags, the stuff from which paper was made at the time.

Skip forward to today. No animals were skinned to bring you this post. You probably aren't reading it on paper, either. "The press" is now a metaphor. Ideas now propagate through all sorts of media. We are bombarded with messages that have been shrunk to the size of our attention span.

To punch through the noise and make us react, messages must be simple and compelling.

But they don't need to be true.

Spreading Lies, Faster

Before the internet era, being an educated person meant that you knew a lot of stuff that was hard to learn. Now anyone can know a lot of stuff, on demand. Got a question? Google and Wikipedia have pretty good answers for you. Not good enough? There are plenty of other places to look online. Some are even true.

It ain't what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain’t so. (Mark Twain)

Unfortunately, attractive falsehoods can propagate every bit as well as facts, or maybe better. I mean, it really seems like Australian toilets should flush backward, doesn't it? They don't? Oh, how boring.

Judging Credibility

A core life skill in today's fractured media world is the capacity to differentiate truth from untruth. Fake news is an actual thing. So are misleading headlines, bad reporting, and old-fashioned sloppy research. There are some places to check online when something seems off, such as Snopes, Factcheck and Politifact.

Fact-checking is good. But teachers and educational leaders are coming to realize that students need new skills to spot truth in a sea of misinformation and disinformation. Teachers need help to train students as critical readers and thinkers.

  • Facing History and Ourselves and The News Literacy Project have collaborated to create an 11-lesson online series on the topic of democracy and civic engagement. Lessons 5 and 6 focus on verifying breaking news. (Join a one-hour webinar on December 13, 2016 to learn more.)
  • Common Sense Media teaches media savvy in schools.
  • Project Look Sharp offers lesson plans that include examples from the 2016 presidential campaigns.

Education Myths

False facts can be hard to notice when you aren't looking for them. Even people who work in the education system aren't immune -- clearing up myths about education is part of what motivates us to write Ed100. Here are a few of our favorites:

Misconceptions matter. School boards wield significant power in California, especially with the shift to the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). This power is checked by transparency, presuming that community members read, understand and discuss Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs). Like Paine's Common Sense, these documents require careful reading. But they are our best hope for constructive local conversations based on real information.

What education topics do you want to learn more about in 2017? Your input can help! Just send us a note! -- jeffcamp@ed100.org

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