We view reading and literacy as a good thing, but is it always a good thing? Do not misunderstand me, learning, reading and literacy have historically been a good thing but something has changed in our society recently. Regardless of political affiliation, throughout this election cycle a very good point was raised in that fake news is running rampant in our society. As educators, we always advocate for things like learning and reading about the world around you, but what do we do when much of the information out there ranges from misleading to blatantly false? Of course books are generally exempt from this, but with the internet being the amazingly accessible resource that it is, this cannot be ignored. The effects can already be seen. A survey of news stories put out during this election cycle revealed that about 20 percent of the stories run by liberal leaning Facebook news outlets were either false or misleading and 38 percent of stories run by conservative Facebook news outlets were either false or misleading. You can see it in the ways that people justify the way that they voted as well, where they often use false news stories as a reason that they voted the way that they did. Heck, even last week there was a shooting (thankfully nobody was hurt) where the shooters motive was based around a conspiracy theory that was candidly false. These false source of information are real, and they have an effect, so can we really say that reading and literacy is always good now? As educators, what do we do about this?
It is important to note that his is not a problem that is confined to the sphere of politics, though the motives for false sources of information can likely be linked to politics. As a scientist and future science educator, an issue that is dear to me, and should be dear to all of us is climate change, and more specifically the immediate threat it poses and the action we should take to combat it. With that being said, I cannot tell you the amount of false information I have heard put forward to dismiss this very real concern; which begs the question, where are they getting this overtly false information from? Clearly people are reading this somewhere, so is all reading good? This is a clear case of reading providing false information that is fueling a harmful narrative that climate change is not real. Before moving on to my final point, I would like to request that all of us do our part as educators to defeat this false narrative, and you don’t need to be a science teacher to do it. I haven’t thought about it too much, but I firmly believe that climate change can be implemented, at least in part, in all subjects. In history for example, you can talk about the industrial revolution and how it effected the world, and the increased carbon emission that resulted from it.
I’m sure that false information has always been out there, but now it is becoming mainstream. Another study has shown that 44 percent of people get their news from Facebook. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that we stop advocating for learning, literacy, and reading; I would never say that, but we cannot simply ignore this very real problem. Which is why I turn to you all, what do we do next? How do we fight against this very real threat to literacy? What can we do? On a personal level I think we can all do more to support good journalism. Journalism is not free. Those who work in the industry have a very difficult job, they need to travel to get “the scoop”, and I think as a society we have lessened the value of the truth in favor of clickbait articles “You won’t believe what happens next”, “Ten things you didn’t know about…” and cat videos. I recently reached out to an old friend and teammate who now works as a journalist. He told gave me a list of good, reliable publications such as, The New York Times, and USA Today, but ultimately he said that we should support local papers. In the end, I do not believe that there is any simple solution to this, in fact it seems impossible to eliminate false information entirely, but I think that as educators we can have a significant impact promoting things like good research practices, fact checking, and teaching about confirmation bias. Please let me know what you all think.