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.