Daily Show Desk

In case you weren’t paying attention to late night talk shows (and, really, why would you), Trevor Noah ended his seven-year run as host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central last week.

Many people compare his version of the program to that of his predecessor Jon Stewart. Both were great, featuring sharp, smart commentary on the news, although I think Noah’s version was more intelligent while Stewarts was more visceral.

Anyway, one interesting feature of Noah’s show was never shown in the actual broadcast. It was a short segment called Between the Scenes, posted only to YouTube, in which featured Noah talked to the live audience about… whatever.

For the last of these segments, Noah reflects on what he had learned from hosting the show and his time getting to know America. The whole video is worth your time to watch1, but I especially like his take on context and how it is very much missing from the daily flow.

The second lesson I learned is, never forget that context matters. Never forget how much context matters. I feel like we live in an age of limitless information right now, but we never seem to acknowledge that there’s a shortage of context. 

We process everything in bites. We don’t realize that we have a lot of information but we don’t have the context that is so necessary for us to process that information. Which is so important. Context is everything, truly everything.

We see a clip of a video. It’s designed to make us angry, we respond to it accordingly. We don’t know how it started. We don’t know how it ended. We don’t know what the actual story is. And context is so important for everything for every conversation if you think about it in life. You see it. It makes you angry. You don’t wonder why it makes you angry. You don’t even know if it was designed to make you angry.

It’s so important to protect yourself from that. Try and find the context wherever you can. Ask many questions and it may slow you down in being able to make a decision, it may slow you down in being able to form a take, but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we shouldn’t have an opinion immediately. Maybe we should wait and see what happens. See what the context is.

Just remember without context, nothing makes sense.

Context. That is the essence of what school should be all about.

Teachers present kids with a lot of information. A lot. And maybe, if time allows, they also offer some context. However, we do not do nearly enough of that, especially when it comes to helping students learn how to develop their own context.

School should be focused far less on memorizing information and spend far more time on building the skills students will need to interpret what they will see, hear, and read in the real world, now and long after they have finished with their formal education.

For me, that is the true meaning of “life-long learner”.

The photo is of Jon Stewart’s desk from the Daily Show, part of an exhibit about the show and it’s impact at the late, lamented Newseum.

1. Unfortunately, the network doesn’t allow embedding of their clips so you’ll just have to pop over to YouTube and watch the segment there.