Like many others, I am deeply concerned with the rapid spread of quasi-factual and nonsensical information spread across social and “journalistic” media as truth. As educators, we simply must take on the challenge of learning and teaching how to separate truth from fiction and opinion. In a recent post, journalist and commentator Dan Rather noted that:
The United States has risen to the most powerful and prosperous nation in human history based on facts, an educational system that taught them, a legal system that respected them, and a political system that made it all possible. That is the winning formula for the health and security of our nation, and the world.
He then cites the widely reported comments of CNN commentator Scottie Nell Hughes, who, said:
And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that often when people that say facts are facts—they’re not really facts. Everybody has a way—it’s kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.
I could not agree more with Rather that our primary social systems, including education and the law, are grounded in respect for facts. We may not always agree on what those facts are or the implication of accepting a set of facts as a basis for further decisions, but we have generally agreed that facts do exist. It would seem to be virtually impossible to teach in an accredited school if we took the view that facts have become at best a variable, and at worst extinct.
I cannot suggest strongly enough that this is an appropriate and necessary conversation for teachers and their students. This is not a political discussion, and the roles of fact and anti-fact should not be assigned to the political left or right. The discussion should take place agnostic of who won what election. It is a discussion that goes straight to the core strengths of civil democracy. It must be ongoing, overt, and respectful. To ignore this discussion is, in my humble opinion, to abdicate one of education’s most critical and cherished roles.