As we all know this year’s election was unprecedented and unusual; it has caused a lot of worry and uncertainty among many different groups of people across the country. And while I have been saddened by much of the dialogue that has come from this administration I have also taken strides in my own life to be a more informed, educated, and civically-minded citizen. One way I have done this is through my teaching.
Many graduate students receive a stipend to attend school. My school give us a stipend in exchange for us teaching a few undergraduate courses. I have always loved teaching. I enjoy engaging with students at different levels, helping them with graduate school applications, writing recommendation letters, and trying to impart some of my own “wisdom” along the way. While my teaching philosophy has grown and evolved over the years it has recently been influenced by the discourse from this administration.
While one of my main goals has always been to teach students how to be intelligent consumers of science, I have never felt so strongly about this aim as I do now. As educators, it is our job to teach all students – whether in kindergarten or eleventh grade or at the university level – to engage with literature and information with a critical eye. There has never been a more appropriate time in history where this is important. We owe it to future generations and to the future of our students to help them understand what it means to be a critical thinker.
So, what does being a critical consumer of information mean?
Well, it doesn’t mean that you should be skeptical or pessimistic about everything you hear or read. It doesn’t mean you think all news is fake news. And it doesn’t mean that you can’t trust the media.
Being critical consumers of information means that rather than taking information you read at face value, you approach it with an analytical eye. When you read an article that makes a claim, find other articles that support it. Then find other articles that refute it. Which argument makes more sense? Think about the data used for the analysis, was it a good choice? Did the authors conclusions support what their analysis showed? Are there any limitations to the conclusions that the authors came to?
Many people think you have to be highly educated to be a critic – this is not true. The more you read, the more you know. Engaging with information by reading A LOT is the best way to teach yourself how to be critical. Read everything. Don’t just stick to the accessible news articles. Read empirical articles, read reports from think tanks, and research briefs from research firms. Read articles from organizations that DON’T align with your political beliefs. Click on the links that news articles link to and read where their information is coming from. And make sure you know how to spot false information. By doing all this, you’re engaging with material at a higher level and allowing yourself to be an informed consumer.
So, whether you teach third graders in the middle of the country, high school students in a big city, or college students in your hometown, think about how you’re teaching them to be critical consumers of information. No matter what subject you teach, YOU can make a difference in someone’s life and help them interact with information intelligently and thoughtfully.