Is the Truth More than What We’re Willing to Believe?

From April 2009 Ben Clement (cc) Photo

Several days ago, trying to settle in for a fruit and yogart breakfast in the lounge of the Evansville Airport Marriott, I posted this Facebook status update…

Wondering if I can possibly finish breakfast with Fox News blaring in the corner.

A brief exchange of comments followed which forced me to think a little harder about the feelings that prompted that post — and it had only a little to do with the content of the program — but at least little. I will admit that there is not much that I have seen on the FoxNews Network that does not challenge the values of my country, at least as they were taught to me by my parents and teachers. But trying to cut down deeper to the aspects of the broadcast that were bothering me, I concluded that it was not the content.  What irked me was the unapologetic enthusiasm, with which the newscasters were delivering that content.

FoxNews is certainly not alone in their apparent need to dress up their news with zeal, entertainment, or sex appeal.  Around the time of the last Presidential election, I took to watching or listening to a couple of the more liberal counterparts to FoxNews, and found myself just as disgusting with its self-righteous and drama-charged presentation — intended to generate emotional energy instead of delivering news, The sad fact is that…

The truth has become anything that people are willing to believe.

What finally provoked me to write this blog entry was an October 27 report from the PEW Research Center for the Peiople & the Press, “Wide Partisan Divide Over Global Warming.” According to a 2007 Harris Interactive survey, 97% Earth and atmospheric scientists agreed that global temperatures have increased during the past 100 years. 74% stated that “currently available scientific evidence” points to human-induced warming, and 84% of the scientists believed that warming is a result of human activity. ((Lichter, S.R. (2008). Climate scientists agree on warming, disagree on dangers, the media’s coverage of climate change. Stats Articles 2008, Retrieved from
Yet, according to the PEW survey, 44% of the polled population said that scientists do not agree that the earth is warming because of human activity, and the same percent (44%) said that the scientific community does agree. To be fair, the argument can easily be played out based on semantics alone. But when desegregated, based on political parties, a picture unfolds. When asked if there is solid evidence that the earth is warming, 8 out of 10 of Democrats (79%) said, “Yes,” while less than 6 in 10 Independents (56%) agreed.  62% of polled Republicans indicated that there is no solid evidence of the earth’s warming.

Is the earth warming? With three snows in December and ice still on the ground from our January 11 ice storm, it’s easy to find reason to question claims of global warming. The fact is that I don’t know. I’m not a scientist. If I want to know, then I’m going to read what scientists are saying in scientific publications, not to what enthusiastically partisan news reporters are telling me.

But to say that it’s partisanship is too easy. It’s that enthusiasm part that really twists my nerves. One of the epiphanies that I experienced, after finishing my formal education and starting to pay attention to this world, was that it’s not a boring place. The world and what happens here is intensely exciting, and one of the forces that came to drive my teaching was that learning about this world should be just as exciting.

Anyone who understands and reflects on their world experience, the forces that influence that experience, and how we affect others, does not need to be convinced by bubbly or blaring reporters. The person with knowledge and understanding can make his or her own “interest.”

What does this mean to classroom? Two things…

  1. We should help learners form not only the information literacy skills that are necessary in an information-driven culture, but also the literacy habits of exploring all sources and all viewpoints and drawing well-reasoned and defendable conclusions. Expect them to compare and contrast — everything. ..and model those habits.
  2. Stop teaching from beneath the standards.  Instead, teach for understanding. Teaching to the test serves only those who want to sell us something.

8 thoughts on “Is the Truth More than What We’re Willing to Believe?”

  1. I think that many Americans believe that Global Warming is possibly related to human factors, but that even if the US signed on to Kyoto and any other form of taxation, all we would accomplish is a transfer of wealth and resources from the US to other nations. All at the same time that China and India continue to create massive amounts of pollution with their huge populations and do so with no economic penalty. If we could assure a level playing field on global warming penalties, the US would be much more likely to shoulder our part. But since that is unlikely to happen, much of the population would prefer to be deniers and keep going down the road we are already on.

  2. It’s funny you point out Fox News, the only conservative news network on television, to focus on the medias “drama charging”. Using time series analysis, it was recently shown that if you use measurements from 3 years prior to predict the next years temperature temperature is neither increasing nor decreasing. If you use just 2 years of prior data, there is an increase in temperature predictions. This is related to your media analogy because you can choose what you want your readers to see. It all depends on what you value and who you are working for.

  3. It’s strange you point out Fox News instead of the other news agencies to emphasis your point of news networks envoking emotion. Emotion is what sales. The sad thing is we have so many methods to analyze results and so many experts that acan recommend different things. The best analyses are those people who can make predictions with accuracy. Your discussion of the time series analysis for increasing temperatures boils down to how many previous years of temperatures should be included in the analysis.

  4. One consequence of current technological changes is lessening journalism. There’s plenty of news to be shared, and that being targeted to various ideological camps, but less journalism. Interesting article by Ted Koppel on this:

    So, yes, for the foreseeable future students need to learn logic and discernment and how to deal with someone they disagree with. And yes, they need to learn to go deeper in their thinking, being able to reflect on their own assumptions. But another implication is that we can teach them about good journalism, and perhaps inspire some to pursue that field.

    1. This made me kind of laugh because I grew up watching the news that my parents watched and believing what my parents believed. However when I became an adult and started to look at all viewpoints, I learned that my parents’ view was very biased and so was the newschannel they watched. It is very important as a teacher to teach our students how to look and analyze all viewpoints. They need to understand the meaning of bias and need to be able to identify it. I also liked your idea, Lee, to teach our students what good journalism is, especially since I am a Language Arts Teacher.

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