Require 'Truth in Commentary' Disclosures

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Almost everyone in the United States seems to have an opinion about schools. And well they should, because almost everyone has spent a lot of time in schools. Fair enough: Americans are certainly entitled to their opinions.

However, columnists, editorial writers, commentators, talk-show hosts, and all others who make a living telling us how things are in our society--or how they should be--also have a lot to say about schools these days. But what do they really know about schools? Do they have any knowledge from personal experience? Have they spent time in a school recently? What school? What classroom? For how long? And what were they doing there? What did they see going on? Did they talk with students? With teachers? With parents? And how long did they stay?

My modest proposal for a "truth in school commentary" policy would give readers, viewers, and listeners the answers to all of these questions. Here it is. If a paid media writer, commentator, or host wants to express analyses, beliefs, opinions, or recommendations about schools through print or electronic media, that paid media person must preface this expression with information provided on the following brief survey:

(1.) Tell us when you were last in a school, what school it was, how long you visited, and what you did there.

(2.) Tell us how many schools and classrooms you've visited during the last five years, for how long, and what you did there.

(3.) Explain how your analysis, opinion, belief, or recommendation is based on your actual experience of being in a school.

Very simple, very straightforward, exceptionally modest. Don't just tell us what you think or feel about schools; in addition to that, tell us how you know what you know and why you feel as you do. If commentators had to follow my modest proposal for truth in school commentary, I'm sure that we'd have a lot less ignorant hyperbole flying around in the media and a lot more detailed, accurate, and grounded information, analyses, and recommendations.

Oh yes, let me suggest a penalty for violation of my modest proposal. Any commentator, editorialist, or host who does not provide the required information would have to devote 100 hours of service in his or her local school of choice. Good idea, yes? Let the punishment fit the crime. If the crime is often too much blathering based on ignorance, then the punishment should be the compulsion of learning. A hundred hours of tutoring and helping out at a school would go a long way toward remedying this ignorance, and it would encourage the media, print and electronic, to provide all of us with much more accurate, nuanced, and effectively complex information about our schools.

Vol. 15, Issue 33, Page 37

Published in Print: May 8, 1996, as Require 'Truth in Commentary' Disclosures
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