Being Open to the “Argument”

Course 2: Week 4 – THINK

Geralt – Pixabay.com

One of the most beautiful aspects of childhood is curiosity. When we are young everything is new. We look at the world with fresh eyes and can’t help but wonder about it, to ask questions, to investigate. Like so many characteristics of children, this can diminish greatly as we get older.

Suddenly, we feel like we know everything and we wonder less and less. Even when we face new challenges or new situations we begin to just accept them as-is, and no longer ask why. Welcome to jaded adulthood.  But does it have to be that way? Are we all doomed? Of course not!

The world is full of curious adults and life-long learners. Exhibit A, educators in COETAIL cohorts who are seeking to learn more and expand their understanding. However, we cannot ignore that there are those around us that have made up their minds about the world and no longer feel the keen pull of curiosity. Those whose beliefs and ideas are so deeply ingrained that they will not be convinced to seek new information, or even really pay attention to it when it is presented directly to them. This week’s resources have opened my eyes to the fact that this is a growth area for me as well.

What’s Your Source?

While I have always considered myself to be an open-minded, liberal person these past few years have really put a strain on my ability to have a logical “argument” with people who are more conservative. Just for clarification, I am using the term “argue” as defined by Tara Waudby in this week’s blog post, “When we argue, we consider multiple perspectives. We must consider narratives and counter-narratives. We must embrace multiple and various perspectives. We must continue to argue and reason, and ensure we T.H.I.N.K”

I have always had some trouble in arguments or debates, due to the fact that I often feel so passionate about my beliefs that I can become emotional. As I matured I was able to separate emotions from debate better, but that was just in time for my other issue to take root. That issue being, people’s inability, or outright refusal to fact check their information.

All of sudden, it seemed like facts were a matter of opinion. So many people are getting their news from unreliable sources, and or don’t realize that sophisticated algorithms dictate what they see online.  As stated in “10 facts about Americans and Facebook” by John Gramlich, “Around four-in-ten U.S. adults (43%) get news from Facebook.” and “Around half of these users (53%) say they do not understand why certain posts are included in their news feed and others are not, including 20% who say they do not understand this at all.”

Pixel2013 – Pixabay.com

It has been very difficult for me to want to even start a discussion about politics, religion, or even science, with people that I know have opposing views. I feel like I cannot trust that they have fact-checked their information or sources. And I know that they believe that I haven’t either, that I have fallen victim the the “liberal media bias”.

The Dichotomy of My Life

This week has caused me to reflect on a deep contrast in my life. How can I ask students to stay open-minded and curious? To listen to other’s viewpoints and accept that they won’t always agree when more and more I don’t ask that of myself?

I have been largely pushed into a passive stance by a dramatic change in my mother, and my sister. When I left the US in 2007, my mother and sister were liberal democrats. Having been raised predominately by my mother, most of my beliefs and ideals were passed on from her. Then as the years flew by my mother began to watch Fox News and became increasingly conservative. It was so shocking to watch her change in this way. My heart broke as she grew increasingly angry and biased against science.

mohamed_hassan – Pixabay.com

After many debates or discussions that turned into near yelling matches. I told my mother I would no longer talk to her about topics related to politics. Then in the last year, I had to add my sister to this list as well, when she started to distrust major media outlets, doctors, and scientists when it came to the Corona Virus.

I could go on and on, but I think many of you have had similar experiences with your own families, friends, or acquaintances.

I feel beaten down by people’s willful ignorance and choice in news sources. I have lost a lot of my curiosity and desire to discuss matters that are controversial.

Yet, I ask my students to. Is that fair of me?

Do as I say, not as I do

No, it’s not fair of me to ask my students to do something that very often I avoid. However, I know how important these skills are. I know that if we are ever going to find common ground and be able to reach compromises in the future, I need to show my students how to find the truth, fact- check their sources, and have healthy arguments about contrasting beliefs and ideas.

Geralt- Pixabay.com

I may struggle with some of these things in my personal life, but I can still model them within my classroom.

Even though we are not in the US, many of my students were very tuned into the US elections this past fall. During this time, some of my students shared some facts or ideas that weren’t true with their classmates. I took the opportunity to introduce the idea of fact-checking and referencing multiple sources.

Whenever there was a concern about a “fact” shared in class I asked the students involved to find two reputable sources for their information. Sometimes they could, sometimes they couldn’t.

I think the hardest part has been to be able to define what makes a reputable source. We have tried to stick to long-trusted and established news outlets as examples. Thankfully, the resources from this week can help us even more.

In particular,  I found “Authenticating Information” from Media Smarts to have great child-friendly strategies for checking on the reliability of news sources and digital information.

What now?

The long and the short of it is that I need to do better. Perhaps, by helping my students develop these important skills, I can practice them myself and begin to implement them into my life again. I want to be a true role model for my students, especially in this area. It is so important for their future and my own.

6 Replies to “Being Open to the “Argument””

  1. Hi Coleton,

    I enjoyed the candour in your post.

    As I read, that age-old adage of, “never talk politics or religion”, still holds true by the gist of your post.

    This Likert scale has helped me shift to more neutral media sources for news: https://library.fvtc.edu/News/BiasCheck

    To be honest, I have a 20-minute timer once a week set to Facebook, only accessible via my computer, for this very reason. I quickly look at my notifications and birthdays and try to get out, asap. Sadly, it still sucks me in until the timer goes off. It took years to build this reserve. I still hate myself each week for not deleting my account. Eventually, I’ll get there…

    The message in your post is also the premise of Homeland, Season 7 (I think). More on an extreme level of Russian bots creating partisanship and extreme polarization of the “left” and “right”. Not far-fetched from reality, in my opinion. Especially under the previous American administration.

    If you’re looking for some more resources on this topic, I do offer some ideas in my post this week, in case you are interested: https://juouelle.coetail.com/2021/05/10/building-media-fluency/

    Until then, good luck in your open-minded journey towards “neutrality”!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Justin.

      Especially thank you for the Likert scale link. One of the problems I face with my family is that they don’t trust my news sources and vice versa. I think this scale could come in handy for all of us. I haven’t watched Homeland, but I will be in quarantine for several weeks this summer, so I will add it to my watch list.

      I imagine one day I will be able to delete my FB profile as well. Until then, I think your timer idea is a great way to wean myself away from it.

      Thank you again,
      Coleton

  2. Wow. I can totally relate to everything that you said in your post. I too consider myself a “bleeding heart liberal.” It is a title that I wear proudly and with great gusto. While my mom and brother also identify as democrats, the rest of my family were/are hardcore Trump supporters. They believe that the election was stolen and that the liberal media is trying to ruin our country. They have Trump flags waving from their front porches and some of them even have a rebel flag bumper sticker on the back of their vehicle. I often ask my brother, “How did we turn out so different?”

    This week’s resources touched on the answer, as my brother and I had a very different background to that of my conservative cousins. I grew up as a gay male in the very red state of Missouri. My family struggled to make ends meet, were on food stamps, and lived in government subsidized housing for a major part of my childhood. My dad was an alcoholic (a gene that he would pass to me) and took his life when I was 21. His dad was also been an alcoholic and took his life in 1987, two years before I was born. A few years ago, I got sober. I was on a path that I did not like and said “the cycle stops with me.”

    All of these challenges in my life have led me to be the person I am today and really help me to understand why I identify as a “liberal.” With that said, I try very hard to connect with people who have different ideas than I do. Growing up in a small town, I know many of the families that live there. Many of them were raised Southern Baptist and have openly told me that they “love me, but I am going to hell” for my “sinful lifestyle.”

    What is interesting is that while this seems rude and hateful, I do not fault them for the indoctrination that they received as a child. I know that they are good people at the core and that the world has tainted them to believe something that I know, in my heart, is not true. As I have grown into adulthood, I have learned that to stay true to my integrity, I must disconnect from their indoctrination and love them anyway. When I assume that people are doing their very best to navigate this crazy life, I live a much more peaceful life myself. I think the worst thing that we can do is allow hatred and vitriol disconnect ourselves from our own humanity.

    Thank you so much for your post! <3

  3. Thank you so much for your comment, Brandon. I’m so sorry to hear about the trials you went through growing up in such a conservative area. I can relate to being told, “We love you, but you’re going to hell.” I grew up Jewish in North Carolina. Neighbors would often visit to try and “save us.”

    I’m also sorry to hear about your struggles with alcoholism. It is so amazing that you have been able to turn that around for yourself. While I don’t suffer from it myself, my husband did and he wasn’t able to overcome his addiction and it ultimately took his life.

    To have overcome all of that and be able to see past people’s opinions or indoctrination and love them anyway is proof of your kind and resilient heart.

    -Coleton

  4. “I think the hardest part has been to be able to define what makes a reputable source.”

    Coleton,
    You identify a challenge to our work as teachers (and just regular people) in working with students in regards to assessing if a source is ‘reliable’. With so many sources of information (and misinformation) out there, how do we decide what is factual and usable? I think we need to have those open discussions about those challenges and how what information we use is going to reflect on us as communicators. We have the opportunity in education to provide students with experiences in gathering information for a variety of contexts to help them develop into effective communicators. One way to frame it might be that they (students) will be responsible for what they communicate to others and the resources they use and reference will reflect on them as communicators. I know this may not help in dealing with differences among family members, but we can support them in developing into effective communicators with other audiences.

    Additionally, the resource Justin referenced in his comment above, the Ad Fontes Interactive Media Bias Chart, could be shared and discussed with secondary students (especially about their methodology). On a personal note, I’ve found it interesting to see where my ‘go-to’ sources are on the scale and what additional sources I might look into.

  5. Coleton,
    Even though the focus of your post is mainly on the truth, fact-checking, and arguments, it gently guided me into thinking about the connections between curiosity, acceptance, and the role of communities, global and local, online and physical.
    Your statement about curiosity diminishing greatly as we grow older has surprised me. As an individual, I have seen my curiosity picking up and slowing down depending on the environment, particularly people I surround myself with. As Rumi said ” Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flame”; I follow that as my life principle and always seek people who inspire me and fire my curiosity. In my opinion, age or experience or knowledge acquired don’t affect our curiosity, the environment and the mindset do. Some of my senior friends blow my mind away with their reflections, ideas, and creative thinking; at the same time, the children in my classes and the school in general often awe me with their take on things, deep insightful questions, and appetite for discovery. Seeking the fire, I also aim at being that fire for my students and my communities.
    Curiosity is the driving force of seeking the truth; and stagnated, inflexible views and ideas reflect a lack of curiosity. Arguments lead to thinking, as you have shared, and thinking provides grounds for more arguments. Fact-checking is important for healthy arguments, but the ability to ” agree to disagree” and to respectfully accept the opinions of others is also important. Modelling that to the students might be hard as you have mentioned, but really a game-changer. I can relate to your story of differences of opinions with your family members- I have been on this life-long journey with my mother. Even though my mother’s views have not changed drastically, she has become more responsive to my ideas and curious about my learning journey, more accepting of my positions, and eager to try things out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *