Lost Things

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone

IMG_1929_edited-1I was thinking about Joni Mitchell’s lyrics to Big Yellow Taxi this morning because, I think a lot of what has disappeared in classrooms has happened so gradually that even educators don’t realize the value of what has gone missing.

During last Friday’s middle segment on Beat The Press, Adam Riley asked if the panel believed viewers could tell the difference between fact and opinion. Here’s the link to the segment which is definitely worth the five minutes viewing time.

If as an adult, knowing the difference between fact and opinion is an important skill, do educators have opportunities to explicitly teach students to distinguish between opinion and news/facts? I would suggest that in this era of time-on-task we do not. I think teaching and practicing critical thinking has been replaced by test preparation and test strategy sessions.

As a high school student, one of the courses I took to fulfill the English requirements was a course called Propaganda and Prejudice.  We started out examining marketing materials and ended up dissecting political discourse to better understand opinions and how facts can be manipulated to prove a point. Those lessons of examination and questioning have stayed with me my entire adult life.

As a teacher of elementary students in 1987, one of the PBS programs that we employed to encourage students to think deeply about issues was called (I think) Think About It. Think About It was a 15-minute, current events based program for middle-elementary and junior high students and broadcast each week on the local PBS airwaves. We watched it together every Friday afternoon. Students were enjoined to dive deeply into a current issue and engage in opinion writing or discourse based on facts they could uncover throughout the upcoming week. I underscore based on facts, because, as the panel from Beat The Press points out, our current conversations seem mainly based on beliefs and perception and not necessarily on researched or proven fact.

Why these anecdotes are important is the action of thinking about whether or not a statement is true or verifiable or even plausible seems to be a missing skill. In our divisive political conversation, proveable facts are in very short supply and thinking about whether a statement is reasonable or truthful is often even more scarce. Case in point would be the Comet Pizza shootings in DC.

When the focus is on test preparation and standardized testing, something has to go. Honestly, until I started to think about the question posed by the Beat The Press panel and wonder more about why our grown up and adult students don’t necessarily discern between fact and opinion, I didn’t realize the full extent to which teaching critical thought has been omitted. Is one of those “things” educators let go in favor of prepping students for test success explicit teaching and practice with critical thinking?

I wonder, if result of 20 years of education “reform” and focus on standardized high stakes testing, is a cohort of adults who cannot critically question and discern opinion from fact?