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.