Lessons From Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart ended his final Daily Show with this charge to those of us who will miss his voice of reason mixed with humor.

…I say to you tonight, friends, the best defense against [BS] is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.

It’s a lesson we should be teaching our students.

Ok, maybe his exact wording may not go over too well in schools. But the idea of developing a sense for when the world is being dishonest (or worse) with us is also not a new one. In the 50’s Ernest Hemingway wrote “Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him.” and others have built on that idea since.

I first encountered the concept of helping students learn the art of crap detecting in college through Neil Postman’s wonderful book “Teaching as a Subversive Activity”.1 In recent years Howard Rheingold has been preaching in his writing, videos, and mini course on crap detection on the need for all of us to master the skills to deal with bad information.

Someone could make a case that the “critical thinking” part of 21st century skills already addresses the idea of helping students learn to recognize misinformation. But that’s not the way it’s usually presented in schools.

Most curriculums that claim to include critical thinking usually wrap the process in highly structured activities designed for students to arrive at pre-determined conclusions. Artificial problems that only approximate real-life at best.

What Hemingway, Postman and Stewart are talking about is a much more complex learning process, not to mention more than a little messy. Skills many American adults still lack and certainly not something we do a good job of teaching in school.

Stuff You Never Got in History Class

Americans are always so excited about the beginning of a war, what if we celebrated how we used to be good at ending them?

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The brilliant Sarah Vowell relating a small slice of American history that never came up in any of my classes (and once upon a time, I majored in the subject).

Revealing the Science Conspiracy

In a well-written and very funny six minutes, Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi demonstrates why the best efforts of science educators are being undermined by adult stupidity.

Why does any thinking person listen to that woman? Oh, yeah, I forgot. She’s on Fox “news”, where science is whatever the script writers say it is.

Greedy Teachers and Diane Ravitch

Jon Stewart does another great job of putting the greedy demands of teachers in context compared to those poor, abused hedge fund managers.

Of course, those talking heads whose clueless pronouncements were used in the piece are only listening to themselves, and on occasion, to each other.

Stewart’s guest on the same program was Diane Ravitch.

This is a voice that needs to be heard frequently on those channels claiming to present news and information, not just for eight minutes on a half-hour news satire show.