Fake news and the need for critical thinking

This is not a political article, but a look at critical thinking. I recently popped online and caught up on some American news, watched a couple of news based comedy shows then watched the original press conferences they had referred to. I looked up President Trump’s twitter feed and had a look just to check out the original source, not because I distrust my news sources, but because I am aware that an ideology sits behind everything impacts reporting. Later I opened up my Pinterest account and in my feed sat an article entitled ‘fake news’. It was an example of a contextual teaching unit on critical evaluation of sources.

Politics is what it is, and I absolutely believe that critical thinking is a must, as long it is critical thinking which includes consideration of the position you are based on.

What an opportunity though, for in the moment critical thinking. Is it fake news? Is it true? Is it somewhere on the spectrum in between? How does it represent, position, silence or give voice to people? The minute we stop questioning is the moment we have a problem.

But aside from taking lessons in critical thinking (please in context, not in isolation) what do we as educators or people in general teach about critical thinking? In a high stakes education system, are we privileging compliance at the expense of thinking and questioning? If all we do is provide minimal opportunities for deep questioning, or model questioning of surface knowledge in the name of time are we not teaching students to soak up the message given by authorities without question? Is this not being consistently reinforced through the hidden curriculum?

I do not advocate for there to be no order, compliance at the expense of order and management. There is a degree of this necessary for a functioning society and classroom. But is there room within this structure for kids to ask why or disagree with you? One way I manage this is by teaching kids when to come to me because they feel they have been dealt with unjustly. Never try it when I am speaking to a large group. Come up to me after and we will discuss it then, I will apologise if I was wrong or explain as appropriate. If a new rule must be instituted without consultation, explain why it is being instituted. Allow them to question it respectfully, and if they don’t know how too do that teach them. Model it in your interactions with them. Use think alouds give children opportunities to question why j they are doing a task and get them to offer alternate suggestions if they find it boring. Sometimes things are the way they are and that’s fine, but these small changes can be the start of critical thinking without changing your planned curriculum.this is something that cannot be learnt through a book, but needs practice and modelling.

How can we expect critical thinking when so many of our actions shut it down? Critical thinking and questioning can be disruptive but does not need to be disruptive in the way handing out energy drinks to children and expecting to sit still and quietly once they had been drunken. If we can’t expect children to learn to critically question society, should we be surprised when they take news commentaries and Facebook news as unquestioned truth?

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