Might ‘education’ be somewhat responsible for the tsunami of alternative facts & fake news?

I remember the first year of my undergrad degree.  It was the early eighties and it was drummed into me the importance of going to the source for any information. if you’re reading about something in one article or a textbook that you find either really frustrating or really interesting or want to know more – don’t quote the textbook, go to the source if you can. If you can’t find the source, find two or three other articles about the source article, and that might even not be the same opinion as yours, but at least you have tried to thoroughly find as much information as possible.

Now fast-forward to the last few years. Alternative facts all through the news. Fake news on social networks.   People don’t hear something they like they call it ‘fake news’. And if people want to switch the truth, they call it ‘alternative facts’.  FYI:  Trump is only the latest manifestation of this disturbing trend.

Back in the early eighties there was no internet so it was old fashioned libraries and taking time with books and reading and reading and reading and reading and reading and searching and searching and searching. Yes it was very old school – but you had to know your shit!

Let’s consider the last 20 years.  We now have Masters programs that don’t require any sort of real research.  MBA programs that can be done in a year that are based only on course work.  Research papers that only ask for a minimum of citations needed and doesn’t need to really back up the facts or go to the source – meaning, opinions without proof.  Citations coming from the likes of Wikis – which are maybe a great way to find Initial information about something – but isn’t actually a source or shouldn’t be used as a source.

Maybe educational institutions from public schools  to vocational colleges to academic institutions are not teaching critical thinking skills and giving some sort of research in foundational courses for all disciplines.  How else can we account for this trend in people accepting what they are told? We need to offer authentic tasks and activities that prepare students for understanding the need to fact-check their own opinions and therefore would be able to fact-check opinions of others.

Recently on LinkedIn, Mike Cadus provided a pointed response about the use the the ‘Learning Cone’ someone had posted. Mike referred to an amazing piece of research from many years ago and how it’s been altered and changed and modified by people over time.  Others are now using the revised slide to promote a style of thinking about teaching and learning that they support,  but it is actually contrary to what the original writer intended.  Nor do a lot of other popular theories have the research to back them up.  (Read about the Myth of Learning styles)

In today’s world, we must reevaluate what is, or who is, or who should be an influencer or an expert. I use the term influencer because that’s a social media term.  Just because somebody has a million followers on YouTube, it does not necessarily make them an ‘expert’ about the things they’re talking about.  Just because somebody tells a bunch of voters the things they want here, does not mean they know what really they’re talking about.  Just because somebody promotes the style of thinking that you as a teacher or instructor or higher education administrator agree with, have you checked to see if there is the research to back it up?

Food 4 Thought:  As teachers / instructors / trainers / professors, yes we have have to follow certain guidelines and standards, BUT we always have the last say of what is presented on in our classrooms. So What say you?  Are you inadvertently contributing to the fake news / alternative facts wave of confusion?


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