By Stuart Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle
A recent article in “Scientific American” sounded the alarm—too many American students are not learning to differentiate between what is factual and what is not.
“Unfortunately, the quality of most state science standards is ‘mediocre to awful,’ in the words of one recent report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank in Washington, D.C. Several states present evolution as unsettled science—‘according to many scientists, biological evolution occurs through natural selection,’ say New York State’s standards. Wishy-washiness is also creeping into the way schools teach climate change, as some parents pressure teachers to ‘balance’ the conclusions of the majority of scientists against the claims of a tiny but vocal clan of skeptics. We can’t have a scientifically literate populace if schools are going to tap-dance around such fundamentals.”
A heavy hitter weighs in
Kathleen Parker who won a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism in 2010 is also deeply concerned about the ability of today’s students to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information. Recently she explained her concerns in the “Washington Post”.
“Most political talk shows have little to do with journalism — getting at objective truth — and everything to do with advancing an agenda…viewers (and readers) need to be better informed about sources and the integrity of their contributions.
“People of a certain age, who may also have read a book or two, are more likely to recognize the difference. But what about rising generations who have spent a frightening percentage of their lives consuming data in a random world of tweets, blogs and food-fight commentators, for whom fame is a goal and reality a show? Once accustomed to such high-velocity infotainment, how does one develop tolerance for the harder reads and the deeper conversations?
Ms. Parker and a group of her fellow journalists are taking action to lessen this problem in U.S. schools.
“These questions are at the forefront of a growing news literacy movement aimed at teaching young people how to think critically and judge the quality of information. Two leaders in the movement are the News Literacy Project (NLP), led by Alan Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Los Angeles Times investigative journalist, and the Center for News Literacy (CNL) at Stony Brook University.
The NLP (whose board I recently joined) focuses on school programs for middle and high school students. The group’s staff includes 22 news organizations and 200 journalists who donate their time and talents to work with students. Both groups try to answer the question: How do you find the truth?, and the CNL identifies news as “the oxygen of democracy.” Indeed, without a well-informed public, you get. . . what we have: a culture that rewards ignorance and treats discourse as a blood sport.
“News literacy programs provide some hope at least for a more sophisticated consumer. It’s a modest start, but learning to read critically is no less important than reading itself.”
A growing concern in education
It would be in the best interests of all schools to embrace the goals of the NLP and hopefully utilize their resources. The critical thinking skills component of the Common Core States Standards (CCSS) is an excellent start. As stated by Ms. Parker today’s students are inundated with information from a variety of sources whose validity is as varied as its locations. It is imperative that schools expand the CCSS to include courses that effectively emphasize sound research techniques which will result in obtaining and utilizing accurate information.