Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Take a Stand: #SOL17

Each Tuesday the team of teachers at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the Slice of Life story challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for theirunwavering dedication to living the writer's life. Head over to the TWTblog for more slices of life. 

Monday ended before it began. 

I arrived at school and barely had removed my coat and turned the computer on before an assistant principal came to my room to question my teaching. 

Specifically, I have been challenged for my instruction of legitimate vs. illegitimate sources of the information we call "news." 

Last week I spent two days teaching lessons about fake and biased news, including posting on Google Classroom an infographic that labels news sources based on bias, as well as a list of "False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical 'News' Sources" and websites that made the rounds among teachers last fall. I gave the students a handout comprised of the first three pages of this long document last Thursday and have been planning additional lessons to teach students how to vet sources.

I required the students to draw the infographic and explained the inherent bias from both the left and right. I shared with students that I have questioned some of my friends' use of left-leaning stories from Occupy Democrats and Blue State, among others, and that I've had to re-examine my own biases at times. 

But I also said that President Donald Trump calls legitimate news sources such as The Washington Post and The New York Times "Fake News" and that I reject his refusal to acknowledge legitimate news. It's easy to see Trump doing this on Twitter, as he did January 28.
Additionally, I asked my students on Wednesday of last week if they had heard about Kellyanne Conway's use of the term ALTERNATIVE FACTS on Sunday. We had a PD day last Monday and a snow day on Tuesday, so Wednesday was my first day with students. 

I told students that there is no such thing as ALTERNATIVE FACTS and wrote LIES on the board to emphasize the point. I told students that a so-called "alternative fact" is nothing more than a "lie." I explained that we can debate what facts mean but that facts are verifiable pieces of information. I used the inauguration attendance lie Trump continues to push as an example. We can have a discussion about what the low turnout means and even why the turnout was low, but not the fact that it was low. 

Making the challenge to my teaching more upsetting, I was denied the name of the student and parents who complained. Essentially, I was told to "give both sides." I'm not sure how I'm supposed to do this without presenting false and inaccurate information as equal to legitimate and accurate news. I do not teach false equivalencies. 

The fact is that not all information labeled "news" is equal and explained that in publications like the NYT and WaPo opinion pieces are clearly labeled. Even The New Yorker now labels "The Borowitz Report" satire.

My job is to teach students to respect academic integrity, to respect legitimate sources of information and eschew propaganda, even when it comes from the White House. The textbook I use for my college-level speech class includes an entire chapter on academic research, and I've long privileged the use of databases and peer-reviewed resources in student work. 

There was a time when I could offer information and diverse perspectives from multiple political spectrums with the knowledge that complicated issues turn on compromise and divergent perspective. That was a quaint time when divergent viewpoints were grounded in facts and how we should interpret facts. Those days are gone. 
We now have a president who does not respect fact, who does not respect the First Amendment, who does not respect legitimate news sources, and on a personal level, who does not respect me as a female and as a public educator. We only need follow his Twitter account for verification of these claims. We have a president who expects unqualified capitulation to his way, regardless of factual information to the contrary. For example, he calls climate change a Chinese construct. 

As Teddy Roosevelt said in 1918, To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. 

How am I to present what President Trump and his spokespersons Kellyanne Conway and Shaun Spicer say as though it's on a par with facts when there is so much evidence to the contrary? I teach the framework of classical Aristotelian rhetoric: ethos, pathos, logos. I teach students to write syllogisms and to test them. I teach students inductive reasoning and the tests for induction. I teach students to know and avoid logical fallacies. 

When disinformation arrives via the highest office of the land, my patriotic duty as well as my duty as an educator, is to challenge that disinformation, and in this case, that includes correcting information I could once tell students to trust. To ignore this responsibility amounts to malpractice. Much of the curriculum I teach depends on accurate news sources. 

I told my students about the removal of the climate page from the White House website and that before January 20, 2017 I confidently told my students to trust .gov as the most trustworthy websites. I have for years required students to back-up their use of .org websites because of their bias. 

My Monday morning meeting upset me to the point that I could not stop crying. I shed tears not for myself but for my profession and for my country. My head pounded, so I decided to go home. There was a time I would have gutted out the day, but I can no longer do this. I don't have the stomach for it anymore. 

George Orwell, "1984." image marked for noncommercial reuse.
Teaching is a profession filled with educators who are cautioned to avoid taking political stances in the classroom. We're expected to keep our mouths shut on every public policy proposal that impacts our personal and professional lives. We're told to present both sides of an issue, regardless of how untenable one side may be. 

I have done this for years, but I have also become more transparent the past couple of years. Now I have reached a point in which my silence offers complicit acceptance of fake news and tacit consent of disinformation and lies. 

At some point teachers will have to look at that line in the sand and take a stand. 

I found my line. 

This afternoon I'll be meeting with a representative from PERSI, the Public Employment Retirement System of Idaho, to review my options. Specifically, I'm looking for a way out. I'd like to walk through the revolving door marked EXIT and never look back. 


  1. Glenda, I have been away from the classroom since 2015 when those first rumblings of today were heard, and even in the past 2 presidential elections it was easy to ask for legitimate sources, look for biased opinions, learn how "words" can alter one's own thoughts. I am sorry this has happened, that you have been challenged to find a path to teach the consideration of "alternative facts" as the "other" side. My words seem few, even empty, as I try to support you, but I do! If you leave, it will be a loss to the students and the school they will regret. I hope you find your friends will support you mightily!

    1. Thanks, Linda. I think we're all shell shocked at this juncture, and that many are floundering as am I to know how to move forward. It's a discombobulating awakening to find my teaching paradigm flipped.

  2. Glenda, I love you. You are one of my best friends, and I mean it. I am so very sorry this happened to you. It seems to be the climate going around lately, and it's very sad. All I can think of to say is "illegitimi non carborundum." Thinking of you.

    1. Ah, thanks, Dana. I love you, too, and draw strength from my friends near and far. I don't see my admin as against me. They're pretty powerless these days, too. That said, I think any time a parent wants to complain anonymously, they should be shown the door. It's simply wrong.

  3. Glenda....thank you for these poignant words. I'm struggling myself with what to say, how to keep going in the face of these awful happenings, and be able to look myself in the mirror. I don't even feel like it's teaching anymore because up is down and down is up. I hope you find some peace with whatever decisions you bees to make. Yours is a voice I've come to rely on --now, more than ever.

    1. Stephanie, your words mean a great deal to me. I've had some behind the scenes messages about this post (and others at earlier times). Maybe something more will come from this little corner of the blogosphere where my thoughts often represent a working through of my own thinking than anything else.

  4. Are you saying there are no legitimate news sources that support Trump in anyway? Are the only legitimate resources the ones that take every word he says and parses them down to the most evil meaning? Are there no news sources that show some of what Trump is saying and doing the very same things that past liberals have said and done? You are entitled to your opinion and depending on the age of your students fine for sharing your opinion as long as it is done in a respectful manner. I feel as though you are so strongly against anything President Trump any student who might have a different view or who might complain may not be treated fairly. Words absolutely matter and those on both sides in legitimate news can use words and phrasing to garner the desired response. Therefore just because a source is "legitimate" doesn't make it unbiased. As a parent, I feel it is my place to teach my child right from wrong and I prefer their teachers not take advantage of their captive audience and use "current events" as an excuse to make my child feel they have to choose. I hope you find answers and peace.

    1. Are you saying Breitbart is a legitimate news source? Are you saying InfoWars is a legitimate news source? Did you read the part of my post in which I described bias on the left and gave OccupyDemocrats as an example? Did you read the part of the post in which I talked about academic integrity in vetting sources and that I see my responsibility as teaching students how to evaluate sources for bias.

      I do not support President Trump. I see in him no redeeming qualities. My opinion is never a factor in evaluating student work. Did you not read the part of the post in which I described that until recently I was able to teach students to consider multiple perspectives grounded in facts and focus debate on how we interpret those facts?

      You can feel any way you want, but feelings are not facts, nor are opinions valid w/out logical support.

      I am not delusional enough to think I have any moral influence on students in terms of right and wrong, nor do I have sway over their ethics; however, I have a responsibility to insist that their use of information meet ethical and academic standards.

      I do not run my classroom as though I am a sage on a stage; that you imply I do suggests you did not read the post very carefully.

      And at no point did I say I deny students use of right-leaning news sources. The Wall Street Journal and The Economist come immediately to mind and are two sources I presented to students as options.

      I don't need to frame Trump's words as "evil." He does quite a good job of that w/out any help from me, and he has Conway and Bannon to help him when he falters.

  5. I had a carefully crafted reply, but I pressed the wrong button and lost it. It is too early in the morning, and I have not had coffee. Anyway, the gist of what I wrote is that Glenda is teaching students to think critically. It's important to vet sources for accuracy, and the infograpic Glenda refers to shows websites that are reliable and valid news sources—some of which skew right, and some of which skew left. The ideal is to check both for balance. But people don't do that, and that's why we are struggling on both sides with the current political situation. People need to learn to think critically or they will continue to share whatever crazy thing came across their Facebook feed and even deny fact-checking websites. A good one I saw many on the left sharing before the election was a fake quote from Trump about how if he ever ran for president he would do so as a Republican because Republicans are stupid. That is, of course, not the exact quote, but it's the gist. And many of my friends shared it without checking to see if it was accurate. It is not, and it has been debunked. The spreading of fake news hurt this election because we have an ignorant electorate. Teachers have a responsibility to do what they can to help students learn to sift through the information they are bombarded with daily and to determine what is true and what is not. And as a start, there is no such thing as "alternative facts." Those are not things that exist. There is what is true and there is what is false, and as Glenda says, we can discuss what that actually means, but we can't say something is not true because we don't like it.