The Greatest Gift: Teach Students To Fight Fake News

William (“Bill”) Perry, an educational psychologist and researcher at Harvard, developed a cognitive model in the 1960s. Among other takeaways, the model suggests that 12th graders reasoning abilities fall in the category of dualism (There is a right answer. Knowledge is black and white.) or multiplicity (Once the “right” answer is found, there is no need to look for alternatives). Many students will never mature beyond those stages. They’ll never seek out or entertain alternative perspectives, never challenge their beliefs as new information and arguments arise, and never problematize news that always tells them what they want to hear.

Reasoning, if anything, has become more difficult in the age of spittle flying cable pundits, alt right and wacko leftist A.M. radio conspiracy promulgators, Reddit “experts,” political newsletters, rage-bloated podcasters, sensational local and national newscasts, YouTube journalists, Facebook and Buzzfeed clickbait, and Twitter bots. With so many channels of information clamoring for attention, learners are vulnerable to fake news, especially when it aligns with what they already believe.

So students mistakenly accept that President Obama cancelled the National Day of Prayer, purchased a vacation home in Dubai, and increased federal income tax rates under Obamacare. They believe, falsely that President-Elect Donald Trump called Republicans “the dumbest voters in the country” and won the popular vote. And now, because Donald Trump in authority--despite being a pathological disseminator of fake news and falsities--his communication is received as gospel by dualistic thinkers.

But we can fight George Orwell’s dystopian “newspeak” by teaching students to develop media literacy, especially when it comes to fake news. So we should teach students to. . . 

  1. Be suspicious of news story when their titles are in ALL CAPS.
  2. Assess the credentials of the author.
  3. Locate the source of a photo (like this fake one) with Google’s reverse image search.
  4. Check for the possibility of hoaxes on Snopes or FactCheck.org.
  5. Don’t click on web sites that end in “lo” or “com.co.”
  6. Know the sham news outlets: 

    The Stately Harold, Naha Daily, News Examiner, Newswatch28 and Newswatch33, Now8News, NewsBuzzDaily, The Reporterz, Empire Herald, Satira Tribune, NC Scooper, Associated Media Coverage, and React365, among others.

  7. Look up studies if they’re mentioned in an article.

Every elementary teacher, history teacher, science teacher, and English teacher should engage learners in activities in which they distinguish between real and fake news, reputable social media posts and disreputable ones, credible author credentials and false ones, hard news or op-eds. The New York Times Learning Network offer more tips to improve students' media literacy.

Democracy is humankind's highest aspiration. Gift students with the tools to preserve it. 

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Todd Finley

Edutopia Blogger and Asst. Editor || ECU Ed Professor || Founder of Todd's Brain at www.todd-finley.com || Books: Dinkytown Braves and Rethinking Classroom Design.

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