I am officially more convinced than ever that the single most important skill that I can teach my students is to be critical consumers of information. With the world rapidly spinning towards a digital future where anyone can produce content almost instantly and where we are bombarded by messages at every turn, learning to pick out facts from the pile of biased positions being peddled in the media is the only guarantee that my 12-year olds won’t grow up to be statistically snookered dupes.
What’s gotten me so fired up?
As I was driving home yesterday, the local conservative talk radio station, 680 WPTF, was doing a bit on Global Warming. Just as I pulled into my driveway, he dropped an "ignorance bomb" on Raleigh and its surrounding townships. "The preponderance of scientists," he argued,"do not believe that global warming is caused by human actions. Only a small minority of politically well-connected scientists are pushing that position."
Having spent the past two months preparing my children for a problem-solution essay on ways that we can cut our carbon footprint, I’ve kind of been swimming in articles on global warming lately, so I certainly wasn’t about to fall for this commentator’s biased lies. In fact, a widely respected research organization known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a report showing that the likelihood that humans have caused climate change is over 90%. This information is widely accepted by scientists and politicians in the European Union, who’ve recently agreed to curb carbon emissions by 20% in order to save the environment and serve as a "model for the US and China."
Even more interesting, Republican candidate for President John McCain led US efforts to sign a pact to curb climate change and participated in a recent DC forum that announced that man’s negative impact on our environment was now "beyond doubt." Heck, even George Bush—veritable hero to polluting industries like Big Oil and Autos during his two terms in office—admitted that humans were to blame for global warming…in 2002!
But none of that mattered to the political spin master sitting behind a mike here in Raleigh yesterday. "Truth" has gotten to the point where it is debatable in the eyes of everyone—and with easy access to the airwaves, this guy was creating his own version of Candyland. Like the Federal Way School Board in Washington State who recently banned An Inconvenient Truth from classrooms, this guy was ignoring reality in favor of a political position.
Now don’t get me wrong: The freedoms that guarantee diverse opinions in America don’t rely on truth as a determinant, and that is one of the things that makes our country so great. But media access equates to power—and increasingly that power is being used solely to influence—not to inform. Preparing students to determine the difference is the key to the continued success of this experiment we call democracy.