Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…*

Johnathan Swift, 1710

“Fake News!” evokes an almost visceral reaction from me, not only because of how I feel about the person who has most often used the phrase lately. As someone who went to a very fine journalism school and still keeps in touch with many former classmates who toil in the field, it disgusts me to see politicians disparage journalists, real journalists who have worked hard to build their resumes and reputations so they can work for news outlets which are highly credible, for the entirely selfish reason that they hate it when anyone publishes unflattering information about them.

And don’t get me started on “The news media is the enemy of the American people!” Just. Don’t.

People are skeptical, even worried about the reliability of information they find online and despite Facebook’s pledge and efforts to combat false information. I’m not convinced they’re doing what they can or should, which is the biggest reason I deleted my Facebook account recently. Their response to false information is inconsistent and partisan. Their handling of the “drunk” Rep. Nancy Pelosi video was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, and I immediately planned my departure from Facebook after I saw Anderson Cooper’s interview with Facebook VP Monika Bickert. But Facebook is a business, owned by shareholders, not news publication, a government entity, or a public utility, so it doesn’t have a responsibility to facts like news media outlets. For me, I’d rather get my

I’ve already covered the concept of what’s trustworthy on the internet and what’s not. My thoughts on it haven’t changed and they’re unlikely to change. The tools to verify information will change. Right now, Politifact, Fact Check (not to be confused with the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, also a good resource), and Snopes are my go-to resources to check an article’s veracity. If the answer is ambivalent, I’ll use more than one. ISTE has an excellent list, and all three of my chosen sites are on it, in addition to seven others. Like I said, this list is likely to evolve over time.

I’m not going to pretend media is unbiased and occasionally gets things wrong, even when acting in good faith. There are plenty of news outlets which, for me, are unacceptably biased sources of information, and I refuse to use or share information from them. Al Fontes Media’s Media Bias Chart (currently version 4.0) is the best resource I’ve found so far to find the relative reliability and bias of the publication I or someone else is drawing from.

I’m a progressive/liberal. I have friends who more liberal and others who more conservative then me. I’ve called both sides when they use poorly sourced information that is just candy for their own biases. I’ve actually stopped using sources from the chart (e.g. Vox, Mother Jones) because of their bias, as much as I love having my own opinion confirmed. I take my job as an information curator very seriously and have to maintain a healthy skepticism about all of the information I encounter. Modeling good behavior is sometimes painful, but ultimately worth it to me when my reputation for credibility and lack of bias rises. Actually, it’s not modeling good behavior that’s difficult, it’s breaking bad habits, so the quicker we can help students find and use reputable, reliable sources, the less difficult it will be for them to stay on or return to that path.

T.H.I.N.K.

The schools where my wife and I work (Seoul Foreign School and Korea Kent Foreign School, respectively) both have these posters, though they’re more widespread at SFS since it seems to been a formal initiative there and it’s an informal, teacher-by-teacher effort at KKFS. I don’t really need to expand or explain it. It does remind me of something late-night talk show host Craig Ferguson said about communicating in a relationship, specifically marriage, but I think it applies to all relationships, on or offline.

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me now?

Perhaps the source of this very useful information is surprising, but Ferguson had to get married three times to come up with it to prevent further relationship anguish. And it’s easier to remember than T.H.I.N.K.

If you could only pick one thing…

Curiosity is the most important character trait to possess and cultivate if we want to be life-long learners. I consider the cultivation of curiosity in my students (in my role as their teacher) and my colleagues (in my role as a coach) my most important and on-going task. When people really want to learn, then there’s almost nothing that can stand in their way. Conversely, if people aren’t interested in learning something, engaging them enough to learn it is just trickery.

A teacher’s/coach’s passion is a major component in sparking student curiosity. If the teacher is uninspired about a subject, activity, or lesson, it’s only natural the students are unlikely to be excited. However, too much passion may not be helpful (NSFW language). Students also need to feel like what they’re learning or doing is relevant or applicable to their lives. And things really get good if students feel like they’re in control of what they’re learning because it obviously is highly relevant to them in some way.

Kids are already very curious, but I don’t think their curiosity is often cultivated, or most adults restrict their curiosity to certain lanes and out of certain areas. I work hard to let students know they can ask me anything, tell me anything, and that my classroom is a safe place for them. I’m working with 2nd graders, so I’m not exactly going to talk about how babies are made (had to tell them to ask their parents, but I did say people are mammals and mammals make babies the same way, so they might figure that one out on their own), but I love their unselfconscious curiosity. It’s beautiful and wonderful, probably my favorite thing about teaching 2nd grade.

* This quote is the most accurately and reliably sourced version of what’s been most commonly attributed to Mark Twain. It’s not as catchy, but that’s kind of the whole point. Facts are often less exciting than fiction, so facts don’t get around as much.