Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Heterodox Academy points us to this piece by Jonathan Gold on the problem of teaching millennials in a "post-truth" era. Though he does precisely pre-empt my criticism of his pretty "standard aspirational progressive teacher daydreaming", I certainly share his concerns. I have one very concrete point of disagreement.

I don't believe that the solution lies in better "media literacy" or even "critical thinking". I think these terms have lost their usefulness, and their misguided pursuit is actually what produced the post-truth era. We certainly do not need more "research on the effects of social media use on teens and the generally understood neuroscience of the teenage brain." What is needed is ordinary literacy: the ability to read and write texts, including the ability to evaluate them as sources. And curiosity. That's what will bring us back into the light.

The metaphor that comes to mind is an elaborate effort to teach young people how to read the labels on processed foods and pharmaceuticals, but not pointing them to the fresh produce aisle and teaching them the benefits of moderate physical exercise. Instead of teaching students how to "navigate in the media landscape" we should just read well-written books with them and ask them to write coherent essays about those books. They don't need a bunch of new principles, they mainly need to practice.

By keeping the books and topics somewhat "outdated", we can confidently help them sort the signal from the noise. We can teach them how to know things by teaching them what we know and how we came to know it. We can't do that if we obsess along with them about the latest Twitterstorm. We have to model a standard that they can hold the tempests in their teapots to.

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