Once upon a time, information was found at the schoolhouse, in the same place as teachers and textbooks.
Today we live in a world where information is ubiquitous, and some have begun to question the value of higher education. After all, can’t we find what we need with the touch of a button, the tap of a screen?
If information is all that you’re looking for, then sure.
But I would contend that information alone is not enough to successfully navigate our media world, especially in a climate of conflicting stories and “alternative facts.” As educators, our responsibility – and the added value we can provide as a profession – lies in teaching our students to be discerning consumers of information. We often call this “critical thinking.”
I attended a wonderful panel discussion last night on the topic of “fake news,” and how we can all be more responsible consumers of information. In a world where nearly everyone’s a publisher (and that includes you if you have a twitter account, a blog, a Facebook page, or use other forms of social media), it’s easy to believe the headline without reading the whole story. It’s easy to click “share” or “retweet.” It’s easy to read or watch the news sources we agree with. It’s easy to fall for sensationalism – and it’s also lazy.
So how can we be more responsible consumers of – and spreaders of – information?
We can read thoroughly. We can look for “the story behind the story.” We can expose ourselves to a variety of news sources, even those that seem to be biased in the opposite direction of our own beliefs. We can engage in healthy debate with others, and refuse to demonize those who disagree with us (that shuts down the conversation immediately). We can refrain from tapping “share” or “retweet” without reflection.
My students don’t rely on me for information and facts, and it’s not my place to tell them what to think. But I can suggest things to think *about*, and teach them how to process information responsibly. To seek clarity, whatever their beliefs. To understand the other guy’s point of view, however much they might disagree.
To be responsible citizens who are able to live successfully in community with others – that’s the goal. That’s the “critical thinking skills” that employers seek. Having information and facts is not enough, without the skills to process it all.
Let’s be responsible, reflective consumers (and spreaders) of information today.
Today’s coffee mug (thanks to Kristen!)