I reread the short Stephen King story, “The Running Man,” which is set in the 2015-2020 era in the Schwarzenegger film of the same name. And what struck me was the parallel to this election season, with its charges of post-truth (lying) and disinformation (propaganda). Slate wrote a great article yesterday that chimed in specifically about the election and these techniques.
Teaching your students about a culture of disinformation goes hand-in-hand with literacy standards promoting claim-evidence-reasoning, and critical evaluation of resources. Disinformation is not just what is covered, but also includes the need to call out the slight-of-hand tricks of misinformation. To do that takes careful observation of the narrative that is happening, not looking at the sources alone. Like a magician, we can easily be manipulated by media.
My students and I look at news issues each day, and the above visual I created can help kids remember what the techniques that would lead them astray. What I share with students is this idea: Distinguish what IS being reported as well as what is NOT being discussed. This is how the wheel of disinformation spins
For example, by focusing on the cost of gas, we dismiss the potential of solar energy. By disagreeing with others in constant trolling posts, we shut down dialogue that could bring us together. If a quick look at the scrolling ‘news’ ticker tells us about the latest antics of a musician or the split of a Hollywood couple, we are distracted from real stories about violence, or systemic inequality, or bigotry.
Several friends I respect told me to tak a careful look at my consumption of media after this past election cycle. Dimly, I am beginning to see it. Displeasure at a particular point of view can cause us to only view media that is slanted to our point of view, without carefully checking source material. That distorts our outlook, reducing complex ideas to sound bites. While I have always prided myself at looking at multiple sources, I fell into the trap of not asking what still needed to be covered. My analysis of information may have been on-target, but it came at the cost of my synthesis of multiple ideas. Critical thinking must include both pieces as we move towards higher construction of knowledge.
The goal, of course, is to lead us to a sense of dismay–a belief that what we are doing is for naught, and that sharing truth and fighting the good fight are not worthwhile. That, my friends, could not be further from the truth, as I see each time I look in the eyes of my students.
I challenge each of us to tackle the wheel of disinformation as we look at our media, and the arc of inquiry we share with our students in social studies, science, and language arts this year. Let’s help our students decode not only information but the value of the ideas presented.