Equity & Diversity Opinion

Educators’ Responsibility to Take on Fake and Biased News

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — January 10, 2017 4 min read
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Last week we witnessed a horrific event, streamed on Facebook and now available on YouTube video. Four young African Americans took a special needs, white young man hostage, tortured him and filmed and posted their actions. That is how the public learned what had happened.

The incident contains several layers of issues for educators to consider. Some of those layers will demand action on our part and others should make us cautious. Students have an online presence. They build relationships there and get their news there. Many spend hours on Facebook and YouTube. It is highly unlikely they do not know about this episode. Only in safe school environments is there a possibility for the adults to make courageous, informed decisions and hold open conversations and learning opportunities for their students. If educators don’t take this on as a responsibility, then the numbing of a generation of students will produce a generation of adults who believe what they want, see things as they are reported as true, and perhaps become the most uninformed generation with blind reinforced bias. Here is how.

Even Real News Can Invoke Bias
The news was reported as... four young African Americans taking a young, white special needs young man hostage and beating and torturing him. If the offenders had been white would it have been reported as four young whites taking a young, white special needs young man hostage and beating and torturing him? What was the purpose of reporting the color of their skin? It is understandable when the action of an individual break with tradition like the ‘first Jewish Associate Justice of the Supreme Court” or the “first African American POTUS” because previous to their accomplishment, no one had done it before them. What did the fact that the four perpetrators were African American have to do with the crime? What is the effect of the identification of the race when we are well aware the bias that results in arrests, convictions, and incarceration of African Americans. This only feeds the beast that remains in the belly of Americans who have held bias toward African Americans. If our news outlets don’t take responsibility for how they contribute to the beliefs of their audience, it is, once again, our responsibility as educators to pick up on this nuance, albeit a rather obvious one, and clarify the real news for our students.

Fake News is Downright Dangerous
How can we know and teach students to determine what is ‘fake news’ and what isn’t? Do the educators know how to determine whether something is true or not? Recently, it was as easy as going to Snopes.com to fact check. Now, there are concerns that even Snopes is biased and, in some cases, seen as a left leaning organization. Articles have surfaced with questions about its reliability as a single source of verification of ‘true news’. Are those articles reliable? Is there a difference between fake news and left or right leanings and biases?

In our generation, there was Walter Cronkite, a daily rock of reliable news who famously said, “In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story.” His NY Times obituary began “Walter Cronkite...pioneered and then mastered the role of television news anchorman with such plain-spoken grace that he was called the most trusted man in America...” Sadly, we no longer have a “most trusted” man or woman to rely upon. There are many who seek the definitiveness of perspective which negates another side. Compromise is becoming a disdainful process. We have long discussed that even history books are written from only one point of view, knowing that there would be another perspective if we listened to other voices. Surely the British see the American Revolution with a different lens than we do. The same goes for the view of the Native Americans as the immigrants who landed on these shores systematically took their land and their lives in order to claim the land and create this country. But, now, we have purposeful lies in the form of ‘fake news’ to address.

From Forbes referring to ‘fake news':

In the counter-intelligence world, this is what is known as a “wilderness of mirrors” - creating a chaotic information environment that so perfectly blends truth, half-truth and fiction that even the best can no longer tell what’s real and what’s not.

In the End
Since the news has entered the digital world in which students live, educators have to be prepared to help them navigate and determine ways to know what is real, or true. They need to discern the difference between leanings and lies. It is indisputable, now that the intelligence community has issued its report that another nation, other individuals, wanted to influence our election. Stories were released that were purposefully untrue and that were readily accepted by the American public as true. Embedding age appropriate skills in grades k-12 in order to find out whether something is true or not is now essential. Helping students to pick up on and understand embedded bias in the news is essential now and for their future wellbeing. What is the truth now has a new meaning and, once we learn how to identify the truth ourselves, we need to teach the children.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.