Researcher’s Journal: Living in a post-truth world

Finding a research topic that is really meaningful is hard work. It should be if you plan to spend five years working on it.

Maybe I am getting closer. I have abandoned anything about historical thinking concepts – this is an academic field that doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a pick-up in the school system. Lots of writers, questionable impact.

Searching for something new one of my advisors suggested that I start looking at Canadian historical websites to develop tools to test for validity.

I had forgotten how important this type of work was to me. I remember sitting on the school board’s tech advisory committee. One of the members (who actually knows a fair amount about education technology) suggested at one of our sessions that there was little point in using curated web tools when you could Google anything. Curated web material usually is expensive mainly because you have to pay someone to make sure the material you put out there has been reviewed for validity. This scene sticks with me to this day and I really wonder what advice school boards are giving to teachers now about how to access digital information.

A few weeks ago, I entered the world of post-truth. Post-truth is a new environment where confusion reigns. In this world, there are no shared facts on which to base decisions. There is widespread disagreement over what is known, how to know, and who to trust. Research as current as 2022 confirms this is a widespread problem that has not yet been dealt with by educators (see – Education for a “Post-Truth” World: New Directions for Research and Practice Clark A. Chinn, Sarit Barzilai, and Ravit Golan Duncan 2021)

This is an ad for the New York Times, but the message is important.

I am citing only one reference here, but there is a vast body of research that backs up this claim. The research on digital information sources goes back over 20 years and begins in earnest with the work of Sam Wineburg, the wonderful writer of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (2001).

I am going back and reading everything I can by Sam Wineburg. Next – Why Read History (When It’s Already on Your Phone)
Sam Wineburg, 2018

We can reach back further. Every generation has its own media that confound teachers and students. In 1991, Wineburg produced a study indicating that students tended to rely on textbook material even though they were presented with more credible primary historical evidence. The textbooks were preferred because students believed that they were just telling the facts. They adopted the story even though analysis showed that the textbooks didn’t get into much detail, were overly patriotic and political and were designed to offer information that could be answered on a multiple-choice exam (see Historical problem solving: A study of the cognitive processes used in the evaluation of documentary and pictorial evidence, Wineburg, 1991)

The current rapid reach of information is unprecedented and with that reach comes a diminishing ability to discern what is actually true.

I remember a presenter at one of the schools I worked at who specialized in the dangers of social media. He was really popular with parents and educators because he focused on creating fear. Students should not be allowed on Facebook etc (the social media at the time) because of the dangers that lurked behind the screen. There was no question that he was right about the abuses of social media, but the solution of just taking it away was misplaced.

avoiding a problem is never the solution

As far back as the invention of movable type pamphleteers in 18th century America were free to print anything that would fit on the page. Thomas Jefferson watched the increasing availability of printed material along with the associated increase in baseless claims and stories. His conclusion however was not to stop the publishing of leaflets and books but to educate the public to be wary of what they read.

If we think [the people] not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

(quoted in Wineburg, McGrew, 2019)

Researchers have been very good at presenting the dangers that exist in the post-truth world. They would agree with Jefferson, that education is the key – but what kind of education?

At the end of every research paper I am reading these days is the declaration by academics that something must be done about the post-truth world:

Any successful approach will likely need to go beyond modest tweaks to current instruction, which will inevitably increase the demands on teachers and educational designers. Part of the research agenda should therefore include work on how to implement and scale up proposals for ambitious instruction. Our call is for rapid, intensive research and design to develop these (and other) paths of promoting students’ capacities to engage in apt epistemic performance.

Education for a “Post-Truth” World: New Directions for Research and Practice Clark A. Chinn , Sarit Barzilai, and Ravit Golan Duncan, 2020, p. 58

So, I am asking.

How have different writers sought to critically address the ability of students and teachers to make sense of multiple information sources in a Post-Truth World?

What is Post-Truth? What are some post-truth reasoning challenges? 

What is the current ability of educators and students to accurately assess multiple forms of information?

What can we do to teach complex sensemaking skills to educators and students?

Future Directions and Ideas: What are the ways forward? 

Along with all these questions, there is a vast array of material I need to read to catch up on what researchers are saying. Maybe someone has an answer – this is what we need to do with our curriculum – but I haven’t seen this yet.

This is a screenshot of some of the material I have collected over the past few weeks

If you have any ideas, please let me know. There is no question that this is something we need to get right. The consequences of losing a grasp on the truth can be seen around us, will we respond?

Here in Ottawa, we witnessed one of the consequences of post-truth

What Wikipedia teaches us about balancing truth and beliefs

I am adding this piece about Wikipedia. One of my professors has suggested some really interesting material on Wikipedia and how this could be a good tool to help us adapt to a post-truth world. Worth watch.

Really interesting interview – how long will it take us to manage misinformation?

New professor of the practice of health services, policy and practice, Claire Wardle, is not a health professional. She is, however, considered one of the leading experts on misinformation. Co-founder of First Draft, a non-profit dedicated to supporting organizations fighting misinformation, Wardle talks to Megan Hall MPH’15, about her plans for collaborative work at Brown that aims not only to understand mis- and disinformation, but to create tools for more effective public health communication.

misinformationpublic healthfirst draftinformation futures lab

The Washington Riots: We are like this

This week, in the midst of one of the most powerful and disturbing moments in recent American history, I decided to start an examination of why we study history.

This is the first blush at a longer project where I will be looking at how we teach history in our schools and what is the purpose of teaching history.

I am starting with Teaching History for the Common Good, Barton, K. C., & Levstik, L. S. (2004).  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. As I work through this and other texts, I am going to record what I am learning here, the place I go to sort out my ideas. I think this is going to take some time.

It is never been enough to teach history as a series of events with no overview of why we choose these particular events. Why do we study the First World War? Have we always done this? Does it teach us anything? What, if anything does it say about us and our national journey?

In 1962, Alan Griffin wrote this in the World Book Encylopedia:

Everyone knows what history is until he thinks about it

When you start thinking about why we teach history and how we teach the subject, this quote rings true. If we want to go beyond a recitation of facts, names, and events, we need to understand why we are doing what we are doing. Not so much of the what, but much more of the why.

I was faced with this when I taught preservice teachers a course in Intermediate History last year. I have written about this before and I will eventually look in more detail about some of the key themes in history as current writers see them.  They include ideas like historical perspective, continuity and change, cause and consequence, and a number of other themes chosen to help students and teachers grapple with important issues.

But even before we choose the themes that are meaningful, we need to pause and think more about the why. Why these themes, why these events?

Before answering this, I want to return to this week in Washington.

When we witness events like this, we have to find a way to start making sense of what is going on. I am not going to try to do this here, but we do have the tools to do this important and really necessary work.

Now, if you haven’t, take a look at the photo essay at the beginning of this post.

The Paris mob attacks the Tuileries – look familiar?

The challenging point in the essay is this: we have always been like this. Saying ‘this is not us’ is not accurate. Actually, for most of our history, this is exactly what we have done. Whether we look to the Roman mob, the Parisian mob attack on the Tuileries, or the Montreal Richard riot, we have a long history of losing control.

The riots in Montreal when Rocket Richard was suspended

We know this. But listen to the New York Times.

American is a nation built on stolen land, by stolen people

Of course, so is Canada.

Listen to the narrative. It is all about our history. We can really only come to terms with what happened this week if we are able to see ourselves in our own story, that all of us come from a violent past where force made things right. Where when the mob held sway there was no justice and no peace, especially for the marginalized.

This is why we study history. Barton and Levstik write that at its very base, we study history to engage in discussions about the common good. We need to look at issues surrounding justice and we need to allow students to make their own considerations and “reason deeply about important human matters” (pg 37).

If I had a history class right now, I would show this short piece first thing on Monday morning. While this is a condemnation of present-day America, it is a condemnation rooted in history. We here in Canada do not get a pass on this either. Our own purposeful study of our own story reveals the same level of violence and hypocrisy.

mob violence in Republican Rome

So when we study history it has to be with a purpose. The New York Times piece is all about history. It is a considered examination of how we got here. It is related to so much that we all should know about. Saying, we are better than this, this is not us is missing a really important historical point. If we don’t see ourselves in these rioters we are making a fatal mistake.

How would the national conversation change if we took the longer view and say – yes this is us, now what?

 

Covid Journal # 2 – Asking the Right Questions

I saw this post from Stephen Hurley on April 24th. We are not there yet, but he is right to put this out. In the midst of the first truly global crisis many of us have ever seen it is right to start asking some really hard questions. Are we ready to do this?

This is a hard thing to do. Today I am reading articles in the New York Times where they are doing a great job of creating a record of some of the nightmares that are happening in the United Staes right now.

Gladys Vega, a longtime community activist, helped a man who had been banished to a freezing, unfinished dirt basement, where he was riding out the illness on a piece of cardboard. Another man had been sent to sleep on a porch, despite temperatures that still dropped below freezing at night.

“People are being treated as if they have leprosy,” said Ms. Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative.

New York Times Sunday, April 26th, 2020 – In a Crowded City, Leaders Struggle to Separate the Sick From the Well 

This is what we need to be doing right now. We need to read the stories. We can’t become too isolated. Our social infrastructure is so broken that those who live in poverty, those without what should be the necessary resources are dying terrible deaths.

While the situation here in Canada is better, at least for now, medical workers are doing incredibly heroic service in a system that was already at over 100% capacity before the crisis hit. It is a marvel that they are able to do this. We can’t ever forget this.

We are scrambling in other areas as well. As many post pictures of their latest bread creation, teachers are struggling to connect to students who, in many cases, do not have the resources to learn from home. How many educators are spending sleepless nights worrying about their students?

While we have known for years that hard to serve communities needed to have computers and internet services to effectively link to their schools we did nothing about this. We didn’t provide computers for home use, we didn’t think that was something that schools were supposed to do. We were woefully underprepared for a crisis like this.

Those with the resources can surf through a crisis like this. Those without are suffering in silence.

So how do we start asking the hard questions?

Do we really ever look at how we distribute our resources in a rich country like Canada? Are we willing to be really critical about the level of health care services that we make available to every person here in this country? Are we really willing to offer excellent support, the support that is needed in low-income communities? Do we really want to support those who do not have a voice in our communities?

It is too easy to condemn our neighbours to the south. We love to congratulate ourselves saying that things are so much better here. Is this true?

Is a vital social infrastructure really our first priority? When we see the gaps what do we do? Where do we put our resources? Why do we allow so much inequality to exist?

These are the questions I would like to put out there now. After the Second World War, the world really changed in significant ways. We started to realize the importance of new institutions like the United Nations, and the importance of seeing ourselves as global citizens. Poverty and ignorance caused the war so we had to find ways to combat these evils.

Our world changed. Will it change now? Or, will we just go back to Major League Baseball and let all this slide?

The death toll is already staggering. Just as after the war, we need to mourn the terrible loss, but we need to do so much more. Can we make the incredible effort once again to really change how we all live and how we look after our most vulnerable?

I am a cynic. I don’t know if we really learn from a crisis. I think people just want to make sure they can get their hair cut again. I don’t see the big questions being asked.

I really hope I am wrong, but can we actually make the incredible changes that need to be undertaken?

I would love to be wrong on this one.

Living in the Times of Covid – 19: A Journal

So, I reorganized my CD collection, sent a video to my mom and put a silly picture on Facebook. My very busy agenda for the day is complete. I am thinking now it is time to start an on-line journal on our days staying inside.

Just to be clear, none of this will be me complaining. I have a sister-in-law who is a nurse in Montreal, our daughter and her partner and our daughter-in-law are all front-line health care workers. They are the ones I know who are actually going through challenging times now.

Thank-you Norma, stay safe!

This is more of a reflection piece. Where was my mind at during the Pandemic?

If you can see the photo I put up on Facebook, you can get a sense of where my head is at. I really think, number one, the idea needs to be stay stable, don’t go off the deep end, this is a really weird time.

But at some point, we will all go over the deep end.

Two nights ago during a Zoom book club, I didn’t follow my own advice. I had spent an hour listening to the daily presser with Donald Trump fact-checked by Now This News. It is really good because they fact-check Trump in realtime. Good, but very disturbing.

Going from this train wreck to a discussion on books about hiking was a little too much. I erupted about Trump, about trekking books, about everything. If my Zoom partners could have backed further away from their computer they certainly would have. For good reason, my state of mind is now a discussion item and I can hardly blame people for that.

Trying to keep an even keel these days is a real challenge!

We all have minor and major disappointments. We can’t see our friends and family. Everyone is seeing opportunities and plans go up in smoke. In the very worst cases of course, many people are dying terrible deaths.

There was an incredible article in the Sunday New York Times – He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus.

It is a long article – four pages in the NY Times.It really outlines in gruesome detail how President Trump hid from what was coming. Then I read an amazing piece by Nicholas Kristof, Life and Death in the Hot Zone. Here is the video he made of his time in a COVID ward.

 

So, I think we need to do a bit of both. We need to send out the silly photos, we need to share our pictures about baking bread and we need to read good pieces on hiking too. We need to do it all. We need to face up to what is happening too.

There is no balance in the time of COVID -19. There are highs and lows and all are good. We need to witness the terrible and we can’t turn our faces away from the corrupt and stupid. Somehow, we need to find a way to see both.

For me right now, the best I can do is write. Yes, it is a bit of an apology for a wonky state of mind, but we all need to acknowledge that this is a different time. Terrible for some scary and uncertain for everyone.

If this works I will keep writing, maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, take care everyone!

ps – I leave you with this – while I don’t really like books on trekking I love trekking videos – definitely, to each their own!