Leadership Symposium Early Bird Deadline Approaching | Join K-12 leaders nationwide for three days of empowering strategies, networking, and inspiration! Discounted pricing ends March 1. Register today.
School Climate & Safety Letter to the Editor

Subjective Motivations Affect Critical-Reading Techniques

February 07, 2017 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

I get that students can’t “google their way to the truth” (“What Students Don’t Know About Fact-Checking,” Nov. 2, 2016).

I get that they’re putting blind trust into search engines, that they need to sleuth out untrustworthy news, that our future as a democracy is on the line—all of which Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew point out in their Commentary. I get that emulating professional fact-checkers is an admirable start.

What I don’t get is why the authors’ solution—to teach critical-reading skills—fails to consider the psychological drive underpinning our tendency to avoid questioning the voices we want to hear.

Yes, even half of the Stanford University students that the authors tested fell for the study’s dupe; they accepted a hate group on the basis of its online presentation as a professional pediatrics association. The authors point to the incredible idea—incredible idea!—that this ignorance exists among students attending our nation’s most selective institution. America’s brightest!

Clearly, if our best students fall prey, more than intellect is at play here.

The humanistic psychoanalyst Erich Fromm’s classic on the roots of Nazism, Escape From Freedom, explains why humans, no matter how smart, turn to the acceptance of false authority in moments of social and existential insecurity: “What the psychological analysis of doctrines can show is the subjective motivations which make a person aware of certain problems and make him seek for answers in certain directions. Any kind of thought, true or false, ... is motivated by the subjective needs and interests of the person who is thinking. It happens that some interests are furthered by finding the truth, others by destroying it.”

Critical-reading techniques are not enough to engender critical thinking. Every student must learn to reflect on subjective motivations. Every student must find the security to have his or her assumptions challenged before lessons in fact-checking will work.

The letter writer formerly taught in the humanities in Oakland, Calif.

Rei Jackler

Boston, Mass.

A version of this article appeared in the February 08, 2017 edition of Education Week as Subjective Motivations Affect Critical-Reading Techniques


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety School Dress Codes Often Target Girls. What Happens When Male Teachers Have to Enforce Them?
Male teachers say the task can put them in a risky and uncomfortable position.
11 min read
Image of articles of clothing on a coat hook outside a school entrance.
Laura Baker/Education Week via Canva
School Climate & Safety Are School Buses Safe? An Expert Explains
A perennial concern is getting new attention.
4 min read
Photo of rescue workers and turned over school bus.
Brandy Taylor / iStock / Getty Images Plus
School Climate & Safety Jury Finds Michigan School Shooter’s Mother Guilty of Manslaughter
Jennifer Crumbley was accused of failing to secure a gun and ammunition at home and failing to get help for her son's mental health.
2 min read
Jennifer Crumbley arrives in court on Feb. 5, 2024 in Pontiac, Mich.
Jennifer Crumbley arrives in court on Feb. 5, 2024 in Pontiac, Mich.
Carlos Osorio/AP
School Climate & Safety A School Removed Bathroom Mirrors to Keep Students From Making TikToks. Will It Work?
The desperate strategy for keeping students in class illuminates the challenge schools face in competing with social media.
5 min read
Empty blue school bathroom showing the bathroom sinks without mirrors.