Teaching World History and Current Events

Christoph Strobel's picture

I thought this essay below might provide some interesting food for thought to some. Personally, ever more so, I find the issue of news, social media, and current events literacy in the classroom a pedagogical challenge. Yet, at the same time, I see it as a central part of the general education mission. In case you haven't seen the article.... Additional suggestions, critiques, and further food for thought are always welcome.


If, after a semester of working specifically to educate students about critical use and evaluation of news sources, one of my students told me that “I now get my news primarily from the New York Times daily briefing instead of social media. I have developed this news habit because the NYT really seems to be, like, a reliable source of information,” I would probably give that student a failing grade.

Unless, that is, I found after further questioning that the student had a wicked sense of humor. That might earn a A.

Before coming to a conclusion, additional questioning would explore whether the student really understood the difference (or lack thereof) between 'social media' and an online 'daily briefings' produced by a business whose interest in clicks-per-story may be a abiding as its interest in getting the news out.

It would re-examine how even important news and other media sources like the Times (NY, LA or London), the Washington Post, New Republic, NBC, etc., can be affected by bias, editorializing, or worse (Walter Duranty for historical reasons, and Jayson Blair, Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, Brian Williams, Dan Rather, and others more recently).

It would remind the student that even an unsavory squirrel can occasionally find a nut that 'reliable' sources reject with important implications (e.g. National Enquirer and John Edwards). And if there was time, the review might quiz the student to determine why so many newspapers historically (and with conspicuous honesty) carried the words 'democrat' and 'republican' and 'socialist' on their banners.

The whole point of such an exercise must be to emphasize to the student (though it's probably too late) that there are NO reliable sources of information upon which one may depend without question. Each consumer of news must develop a critical, even skeptical, eye and evaluate all stories from multiple sources and perspectives. It's hard work, but there are rarely shortcuts to the truth and none at all that will serve as a final solution, even the New York Times Daily Briefing.

If as this student claims, one has found a 'comfortable' news source, confirmation bias should immediately be the suspect in The Case of the Death of Critical Judgement.

As Chicago's City News Bureau taught us, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."

Larry A. Grant