Beyond Teaching Fake News

I’ll start you out with this provocation: don’t waste your time teaching fake news. I’ve got something better.

By now, we all have heard about fake news. We see it everywhere. And schools now want to teach kids how to deal with fake news. That’s one more thing to add into an already curious mix of initiatives, curriculum, and programs that currently exist in today’s version of school. I’m guessing that fake news will make a great lesson, or perhaps a couple of lessons. As you read this, schools are rushing to integrate fake news into their curriculum.

Teaching fake news is easy. It’s a hot topic, and it’s sexy. It’s easily packaged, lessons can be designed fairly quickly or even downloaded, there are logical entry points into curriculum, and it’s in and out in a couple of lessons. Back to the regularly scheduled program. Check it off the list. Yeah, we teach fake news.

But teaching how to process and deal with fake news isn’t nearly enough and it misses the point entirely. There’s a much bigger and important prize out there that demands real attention — it’s called the development of citizens.

That’s a big and broad goal. That’s worthy of any educator’s best efforts. And achieving that, of creating educated and participatory citizenry, is what every school should be about. It’s why schools exist after all.

Teaching fake news is a small idea. Developing children into citizens that will sustain democracy is not.

To do this, I propose that every school should be a “Citizen School.” Everything that’s done, taught, designed, created-every expectation, guideline, rule, suggestion, belief, and perspective should be filtered though a single question: If we do this, does this action support creating educated, literate citizens? And if you claim to do that with your current programs, that’s fine-good for you. But what I am talking about is a fundamental shift in the focus and actions of the entire American educational system, and in the right direction. Today, such a focus is even more important given the political realities of this country and concerns about the person about to run public education in the U.S.

Shouldn’t “the development of an educated American citizenry” be the mission of every school in the United States? Put THAT on your web site.

I saw several months ago a tweet (and I can’t find it, sorry) that the election of 2016 would make a great lesson. A great lesson. I’m thinking that there will be volumes of books and other scholarly works that will be dedicated to understanding the election of 2016. A lesson? A single lesson? Fake news is the same thing. Only several lessons.

Is it possible to think bigger, wider and with a greater sense of urgency? A focus on literacy, on civics, on the rights and responsibilities of democracy, on participation and engagement, on social action, supporting those less fortunate than you, contributing your ideas and thoughts, and standing up for what you believe in- well, that was needed yesterday. Cell division, the War of 1812, and the Makey Makey Banana Piano can wait. What can’t wait is an immediate and determined approach by all school communities to encourage the bright minds of this country to develop the skills and dispositions of a literate and participatory citizenry.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. It is appreciated.

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