#charlestonchurchshooting

For the past few weeks, I’ve been consumed by stories of the Charleston shooting and conversations about race in America and symbols of hate and the government’s role in ending oppression.  All of it makes me incredibly sad, to be honest.

One thread that I think has implications for educators are the stories of the radicalization of Dylann Roof.

In his online manifesto, Roof identifies the shooting of Trayvon Martin — and America’s reaction to it — as his entry point to the hate that consumed him.  More importantly, he identifies the website of the Council of Conservative Citizens — an organization identified as an active hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — as a source that defined his core beliefs towards African Americans.

What breaks my heart, however, is that after killing nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in a misguided attempt to start a race war, Roof confessed to police that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him.”

Stew in that for a minute, would you? His entire worldview — developed by consuming hate easily found on the internet and by isolating himself from anyone who might openly test that hate — was challenged in the moments right before his decision to kill.  Had more of those moments happened — had he surrounded himself with diverse thinking and a diverse community of friends willing to push against his flawed notions — lives would have been saved.

What’s troubling is that today’s new media ecology makes it possible for EVERYONE to live in intellectual echo chambers if they want to. 

In fact, look carefully at the results of the annual TV News Poll conducted by Public Policy Polling and you will see that even Americans in the mainstream rarely look for diverse viewpoints when consuming current events.  From the summary:

You can really see the disparate ways in which Democrats and Republicans consume news by which outlet they say they trust the most. 56% of Republicans say Fox to 10% each for ABC and CNN. There’s really no competition at all. For Democrats on the other hand there’s a pretty wide distribution of outlets winning ‘most trusted’ honors- CNN gets 21%, PBS 18%, ABC 14%, and CBS and Fox 11%.

You see the problem, don’t you?

While Fox News and CNN may claim to be “fair and balanced” and committed to “moving truth forward” — and while they are nothing like the hate sites that Dylann Roof frequented — they are undeniably biased, determined to advance ideological agendas.  Despite that bias, they remain “the most trusted news sources” for the majority of Americans.  In fact, I’d bet that the stars of both networks believe that they have a moral imperative to give voice to takes on the news that best represent the individual views of their audiences.

I literally squirm whenever I watch either network.  Their hosts regularly demean guests with different perspectives.  Sarcasm is common.  Scorn is the norm.  Conversations about controversial issues quickly become an ideological version of Mortal Kombat with speakers trying to score points by destroying — rather than openly considering — ideas that run contrary to the positions regularly advanced by the networks.

That’s frightening, y’all.

Being exposed to diverse thinking is the key to successful compromise.  When we can actively surround ourselves with singular persepctives, our core notions — about race, about religion, about politics, about other people — are never challenged.  And in a world where accessing ideas aligned only with our core notions is easy, it is more important than ever that we teach students about the importance of seeking out dissenting voices and welcoming intellectual challenge.

So what are YOU doing to teach students about the dangers of intellectual echo chambers?

Do you encourage diverse thought in class?  Can your kids find examples of bias in popular news sources?  Are you forcing your kids to look at multiple perspectives when wrestling with controversial topics?  Have you taught students the difference between collaborative and competitive dialogue?

The simple truth is that surviving and thriving in a world where intellectual isolation is becoming the norm rather than the exception to the rule depends on citizens who are willing to remain open and able to recognize — and potentially reject — sources that are intentionally representing only one perspective.

Nothing is more important for us to start teaching the kids who are in our classrooms.  Nothing.

_________________________

Related Radical Reads:

Bill’s Instructional Resources on Collaborative Dialogue

#ferguson

Are Our Schools Safe Places for Kids Who are Different?

  • ReneeMoore

    Why We Need Truly Multicultural Education

    Thank you, Bill, for these powerful and necessary points. One of the two greatest reasons people fought for integration was the need for all people in a democracy to interact with each other and understand each other as human beings. If we are to fulfill the great promises towards which this nation claims to strive, then we have to be able to engage in real conversation with each other — listening and learning.

    You also touched on one of my major peeves. As a former journalist, trained in old-school journalism, I find most of what passes for news reporting today absolutely disgusting. Reporters asking inane, thoughtless questions; poorly and too-quickly released stories; and as you pointed out so-called interviews or expert panels that are little more than talk-show-stagings designed to promote a point-of-view rather than explore facts or examine perspectives.  Same thing happens too often in comments sections of online spaces.

    Modern news outlet employees, like so many others in our society, could also benefit from multicultural education. Best place to start is to promote it among teachers and other educators.

    • billferriter

      Renee wrote:

      Renee wrote:

      Thank you, Bill, for these powerful and necessary points. One of the two greatest reasons people fought for integration was the need for all people in a democracy to interact with each other and understand each other as human beings. If we are to fulfill the great promises towards which this nation claims to strive, then we have to be able to engage in real conversation with each other — listening and learning.

      —————–

      Hey Renee — 

      This is what frightens me most.  We DO need integrated schools in order to better understand and appreciate one another, yet the notion of parent choice and integration seems to be dying a slow death on the vine.  I can’t imagine that things will get better, either — given the comfort that we find living in our own bubbles.  Isolation will destroy our nation.

      Breaks my heart.

      Bill

       

  • ML

    You are absolutely right on

    You are absolutely right on this. We have discussions about media bias and help to open each other's eyes to the agendas out there. I'm thinking of doing an actual lesson comparing the bias and coverage of a single event from the differing media sources. That would be really interesting and purposeful. 

  • BillIvey

    Thanks for this post!

    I like to think that my kids are exposed to diverse thinking within the classroom. One of my main goals is that they feel safe expressing their opinions, and learn when and how to agree to disagree, building empathic awareness in the process. Some years go better than others, granted, but for the most part that works out reasonably well.

    I work hard, too, to include book choice options that include diverse characters, trying to keep race, nationality, gender, sexuality, class, and abledness in mind. Because Humanities 7 is a democratic classroom, I can’t/won’t impose my choices, but we usually end up with a fairly diverse reading list in any given year. I try to keep in mind that it’s not my responsibility to hit every single possible axis of diversity every single year; these kids will, after all, spend five more years at my school before going on to college.

    That said, as I think about it, I probably could do a better job supervising the sources kids find and use for their independent Focus Question research. Probably including a research skill such as “Consults a variety of sources reflecting a diversity of perspectives” in their self-assessments would help.

    The skill “Evaluates accuracy of information” is already on my list, and the kids are pretty good about consulting me when they have a question about how reliable a source is. When they do, the conversations we have help them further develop that skill.

    Finally, the kids know I’m on Twitter, and if I see a natural opening, I’ll talk to them about how I deliberately seek to interact with people across the political spectrum, and why.

    By the way, I completely agree that much of what passes for journalism today is at best substandard and at worst deliberately misleading. I know that a recent study showed that 60% of the information Fox presents as factual is actually untrue, and that the figure is 40% for MSNBC. That is beyond appalling. I understand and accept that different media outlets will emphasize and leave out different parts of the truth, and can deal with that, if in no other way, by consulting different media outlets (and encouraging my kids to do the same). But telling outright lies is something else altogether.

     

    • billferriter

      Bill wrote:

      Bill wrote:

      That said, as I think about it, I probably could do a better job supervising the sources kids find and use for their independent Focus Question research. Probably including a research skill such as “Consults a variety of sources reflecting a diversity of perspectives” in their self-assessments would help.

      ———————-

      I like this, Bill — I think requiring kids to consult sources from a variety of perspectives does two things.  First, it reminds students that there ARE a variety of perspectives on most issues.  Second, it requires them to move beyond the first source that they find and forces them to consider what a “reliable” source is.  

      The simple truth is that our kids think sources like Fox and CNN are reliable because they are “mainstream.”  To them, “unreliable sources” are completely bonkers sites.  We have to teach them a bit of nuance behind the term “unreliable,” introducing the notion that emotionally loaded sites — bias — is as dangerous as completely ridiculous sites.

      Hope you are well, 

      Bill

       

  • TriciaEbner

    Listening is key, too

    This post is so timely and the message so important. We are not “done” with multicultural education by a long stretch. Multiple perspectives are a critical part of our society, but it seems the more connected we become as a society, the more people tend to go into those echo chambers. 

    Listening is a key piece of it all. So often it seems we don’t listen to one another enough. I catch myself all the time thinking of my next response, or entrenching myself in a point of view without truly LISTENING to what is being said. It’s something I want to do a better job of encouraging in my students–and doing myself, too.