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Are we doomed to a culture where fake news wins? Not if schools can help

 Are we doomed to a culture where fake news wins?  Not if schools can help

One of the thoughts that comes to my mind and just doesn’t let go is how to help my students (and, in that case, everyone I know) navigate the flow of information, avoid misinformation and find the way to the Truth.

I recently took “Facts Against Fiction: Teaching Critical Thinking Skills in an Age of Fake News»Jennifer Lagarde and Darren Hudgens (2018). Towards the end of the first chapter, the authors describe a scene from “Star Wars” where C-3PO turns into R2-D2 when they are under siege by a corridor full of attack aircraft, and says, “We are doomed”.

When I read this description, I wanted to shout, “Yes! You have it! ”

This is exactly what I feel when I think about taking on the monumental task of guiding children through a process of critical thinking, especially when we cautiously walk through a landscape full of political mines, seek to be mindful of societal controversy, and find that our professional autonomy in this regard may indeed be limited.

Eating a talking elephant for one bite seems like a great place to start, but which bite to make first? I would suggest that we could start by delving into definitions that allow us to speak with clarity regarding the types of information that are misleading. Develop a common vocabulary if you want.

In my quest to deeply understand the elephant on the menu, I delved this infographic from European Association of Spectators which took me on a tour of ten types of misleading news: propaganda, clickbait, sponsored content, satire and mystification, error, party, conspiracy theory, pseudoscience, misinformation and fake information. Of course, I learned these terms, but it allowed me to more clearly articulate the similarities and differences in the texts and images that fit these descriptions.

As much as this is not enough, as consumers of information, we must also be aware of the possibility of false attribution, fake accounts, fraudulent headlines and falsified content.

After all, not only children are fighting. Many adults are also working hard to determine what is legal information and what is two-story. Much of the content that is distributed online is intentionally created to make us click, retweet, annoy, share, comment, tune in and vote.

Here, in this safe space, I admit that although I know better from time to time, they also get me. There were times when I turned to my adult son and said, “Can you believe that?” only to have it revealed that it is a fake account or outright propaganda.

To catch yourself in passion, you need self-regulation, the ability to pause and a willingness to think. These are skills that require a lot of practice, the ability to make mistakes and analyze why, and it seems we needed to figure it all out decades ago.

As soon as we feel that we are beginning to move forward, those who manipulate information find new ways to turn us down, turn our heads, and again snatch the security of truth from our hands.

But we can’t give up.

We cannot raise our hands and declare that we are doomed.

Doing so means we really will.

(By the way, although below I share the great information I got from Facts Against Fiction, it’s full of more information, resources, and analysis. I encourage you to pick up a copy or borrow it from your library and delve into it completely.)

It’s time to focus on what LaGard and Hutchins call a news consumer skill set. While these skills will require a lot of training, and it’s not as easy as “just do it,” it will definitely focus on future work.

  • LaGard and Hudgins believe we need to learn to recognize our own biases. Each of us brings to the consumption of information our own implicit biases. Recognizing these preconceived opinions and thoughts enables us to remember that these biases tend to make us more inclined to accept stories that fit our own opinions and reject those that do not.
  • I like the phrase “stupidity detectors” that LaGard and Hudgens use to describe the spidery feeling we should get when we see sensationalism, vague statistics, highly emotional stories, and images that make us say, “Really?” Sharpening these skills allows us to recognize clickbait when we see it, and navigate it as critical thinkers.
  • Even after we tested our own biases and tuned in to our clickbait alert system, our work is not over. It is important that we study and analyze the credibility of the original source, not just our supposed trust in the person who shared information with us through social media or any other channel.
  • Finally, and probably the most difficult to follow consistently because it takes time and effort – this is the idea that we need to triangulate information, i.e. find other credible sources that corroborate the same facts.

Even if we focus on the key behaviors outlined by LaGuard and Hudgens, the work ahead is still challenging, but if we don’t, who will?

The good news is that there is a lot of help to work with quality sources.

The first step begins now. We can reflect on and evaluate our own biases, develop these spidery feelings for clickbait in all its nefarious forms, consistently model for youth how to find the original source, and make extra efforts to triangulate the facts.

I’m ready to challenge. Who’s with me?

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