Fact VS Fiction: Teaching Critical Thinking Skills In the Age of Fake News by Jennifer LaGarde and Darren Hudgins
Let’s start by making one thing clear: writing Fact VS Fiction: Teaching Critical Thinking Skills In the Age of Fake News was not a labor of love. Don’t get us wrong, we loved working together. We loved our research driven writing process. We loved our editorial team. And we loved being able to share what we’ve learned with an educational community that has given so much to each of us. However, like a lot people by the end of 2016, we were feeling discouraged about the state of discourse in our world. What’s more, as human beings, we were alarmed by how much of our public debate seemed to be influenced by disinformation that had been created specifically to fool and divide Americans. But as educators, we also felt a deep and powerful urge to do something about it. And it’s out of that frustration and a desire to solve a problem that the idea for Fact Vs Fiction was born.
In a 2017 report by the Knight Foundation, titled “How Youth Navigate the News Landscape,” researchers explored the way young people consumed news on mobile devices and social media (Madden, Lenhart, & Fontaine 2017). One of the students interviewed for the study shared her habit of checking her phone first thing in the morning, seeing the news alerts that had collected overnight, and feeling a certain amount of anxiety as a result. We can relate! And we’re betting you can, too! But let’s face it, it’s not just the news that can be stressful; the news about the news can be pretty depressing as well.
It may come as a surprise to learn that roughly 68% of Americans get their news from social media, as opposed to traditional news sources like TV or radio (Pew 2018). And of course, these numbers trend up as the age of the news consumer goes down. All of which is disturbing when we consider a 2016 analysis conducted by the site BuzzFeed News which found that the top fake election news stories (stories that were proved to be false by independent analysis) generated nearly 1.4 million more total engagements (likes and shares) on Facebook than the top TRUE stories about the election (Silverman, 2016).
Add to this, a) the reality of a growing and highly profitable fake news industry in places like Eastern Europe, where creators of false information are raking in annual incomes far exceeding the national average, along with b) the way in which the term “fake news” itself has become a political football, being tossed around to do everything from describe legitimate propaganda to disparage anything that doesn’t confirm our own biases, and… what we’re left with is a real mess.
That said, it’s tempting to look at the situation we’ve found ourselves in and feel hopeless. We all have to ask ourselves: as the amount of information being generated increases exponentially and the ways in which we access it remain largely unregulated, are average educators prepared to shift from teaching basic information literacy to being fierce defenders of facts?
We think so. As two people who have spent a lot of time studying the phenomenon of “fake news” and media literacy, we are (cautiously) optimistic. In fact, we see skilled teachers as the kryptonite against fake news and the purveyors of a better democracy. In this way, Fact VS Fiction is our attempt to dent the universe.; to use the alchemy of research and writing to unpack and name the challenges we face; to arm teachers with tools and strategies for the fight ahead; and to do our part to right a ship that has veered off course.
Jennifer LaGarde is a lifelong teacher, learner and passionate advocate for student rights to properly staffed and funded libraries. With over 20 years in public education, Jennifer’s educational passions include leveraging technology to help students develop authentic reading lives and meeting the unique needs of students living in poverty. A huge fan of YA Literature, Jennifer currently lives, works, reads and drinks lots of coffee in Olympia, Washington. Follow her adventures at www.librarygirl.net or on Twitter @jenniferlagarde
Darren Hudgins is CEO of Think | Do | Thrive, which helps educators, school leaders, districts and school organizations build their culture, strengthen human capacity and inspire social servants. A former secondary education teacher and director of instructional technology, Darren has consulted for numerous organizations and school districts. Follow Darren on twitter @dhudgins