Maxwell Jones
Writing 150 Fall 2020
6 min readSep 7, 2020


The Art of Self-Educating

Growing up in a lower-middle-class, Democratic household, my parents always made sure that I understood inequality is prevalent in our world; some entire populations of people remain at a disadvantage compared to others either because of the color of their skin, their ethnicity, or their class. The MSNBC anchors I watched with my parents every night informed me on the cultural inequalities that exist; gay marriage, racism, poverty, and other phenomena were painted as drastic issues that only the Democrats cared about and the Republicans didn’t. So, growing up, I believed my perspective of society wasn’t “skewed” like how I believed those in conservative households were. But throughout my time watching MSNBC, it started to become apparent that the hosts rarely ever addressed solutions to these issues, and seemed to focus more on their Republican opposition’s ignorance to them. MSNBC only criticized FOX and republicans for not acknowledging these issues, while FOX chastised liberal media for complaining too much. I was being told what I should believe rather than why I should believe it. The substanceless content produced from all mainstream media made me feel trapped in a meaningless debate of defending my side at any cost, rather than a constructive discussion working towards solutions. Soon, I ignored politics at all costs — that is, until I began the life changing activity of self-educating myself through other mediums than cable news.

This venture first began in the midst of the 2020 election year. The election made cable news unavoidable, and I became increasingly furious at the uninformative segments I was being forced to digest. In Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he describes what happens when “Education becomes an act of depositing”, or when the teacher (in this case, cable news) becomes simply a depositor that feeds the depository (me) with information. It ends up “filing [the depository] away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge” (66). One day, as I sat on my couch watching an MSNBC segment on whether the Green New Deal made Democrats look “too extreme” or not, I realized that this very “filing away” of my critical thinking had been occuring my entire time watching mainstream media. At the end of the segment, I realized that despite listening to Chuck Todd’s analysis of the politics of the bill, I still had no idea of its content. Bewildered at how little information I just learned after watching 10 minutes of dialogue, I took to my favorite website, Youtube, to determine how “radical” the content of the bill truly was.

This is where I found new media journalism: a subgenre of internet journalists that voice their opinions without the influence or affiliation of corporate employers. Here, I learned that I believed in most every part of the Green New Deal and didn’t find anything “radical” about the proposal. Despite my opinion of the bill, though, the significance of this experience was the development of my opinion, rather than my opinion itself. If I left it up to the pundits on MSNBC, I would be against the bill without even knowing what it was about, or, as Freire puts it, more likely to “adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited on [me]” (67); only through self-education and objective analysis of the substance did I form an opinion that was true to me — not MSNBC.

Realizing that conducting my own research strengthened my opinions and arguments, however, I realized something else beyond the vapidness of mainstream media; I couldn’t fall into the same banking educational consumption with these new media journalists as I did with mainstream news hosts. Freire states that “a revolution is achieved… with reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.” If I relied completely on the voices of these new media journalists, my opinions would simply be a mirror of theirs, rather than a developed reflection of my own. If I had any hopes of strengthening not just the substance of the news I consumed, but also, the honesty of my own perspective, then I needed to take further action and deeper reflection. So now, when a journalist I follow covers a new bill, tax plan, or candidate policy positions, I do my own research, checking how mainstream media is reporting on these very issues, as well as reading the contents of the subjects myself. The diversity of these perspectives allows me to reflect on the issue at hand in a holistic way, and form my opinions based on the realities of the subject rather than what others have said about them.

So when Kyle Kulinski reported that a Yale study estimated $450 billion in annual savings using Medicare for all, rather than take that study at face value, I researched the accuracy of it by reading articles on the study, and found out about certain cost assumptions the study made — one assumption being that under Medicare For All, Medicare rates would be universally accepted. In reality, this assumption inflates the potential savings of the bill by not accounting for the likely reality that Medicare rates wouldn’t be universally accepted, and a more conservative figure is more likely. While I did not find what I hoped I would regarding Medicare for All, the extra length I took in the pursuit of knowledge brought me closer to the truth and increased my understanding of the policy overall. According to Freire, “Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the… continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world” (p. 66).

Through invention and reinvention, and through active reflection and research, my self-education brought me to the most informed perspective on the study. This realization that knowledge emerges through challenging my opinions and garnering new perspectives has influenced the way I handle everything in my life; I question every authority-figure I encounter, I analyze issues by considering different perspectives, and I become invested in the details of all of my interests. Like in my political beliefs, I no longer approach any discussion with a conclusion ready and my mind made up; I use as many perspectives as I can to form a thorough, well-versed, and knowledgeable opinion. In a time where the US is plagued by its hyperpartisanship and a pandemic sending millions into poverty, I think it is becoming increasingly important for everyone to self-educate, to seek out knowledge through trial and error and understanding each other’s perspectives, because unless we discuss legislation from an objective, substantive lense, politics is just a team-playing, partisan game — which too many cannot afford right now.

The fact that it took self-will, exploration, and rejection of mainstream news consumption for me to be educated on the substance of policies says more about the state of our nation’s discussions than my intelligence or academia. Doing this research on my own cultivated a newfound way of critically thinking within me: one that attempts to solve the problems we face instead of passively observe them. I think in a time where our news media is polarized and our citizens are more divided than ever based solely on political party, and not beliefs, it is essential that we venture outside the conventional ways of gathering information in order to enrich the substance of our discussions, find out what we truly believe, and solve the crises that affect millions everyday. My self-education was not significant because of some tremendous amount of effort or intelligence that necessitated understanding these issues, but because it opened my eyes to the depository for mainstream news that I became, and the pursuer of knowledge that I want to become.

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