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Ohio School Plans to Offer Course on Fake News and Critical Thinking

In the olden days, people had an expectation of receiving a reasonable level of truth from journalists. Today, journalism’s reputation is so bad that if you asked someone to name three types of lies, they just might say, “Small lies, big lies, and lies by the news media.”

It’s no longer just an issue of identifying misleading headlines, finding a few factual errors, or pointing out an author’s reputation for bias. Modern news is nuanced beyond 50 shades of gray. Today, every story, every sentence, and every word, even if all factually correct, have to be taken in context within the whole and interpreted accordingly. That type of analysis used to be restricted to political statements. Not anymore. Say hello to “fake” news.

The Internet and social media receive much of the blame for fake news and its effect on our civil discourse. But is it really that difficult to recognize fake news from real news? More importantly, is it something that can be taught? Or is really just a matter of consumer partisanship or laziness?

Kristin Schnerer, a Toledo, Ohio, social studies teacher at Start High School, believes it can be taught. She developed a “Media and Politics” course for juniors and seniors with the goal of developing skills in students to help them tell the difference between fact and fiction. The official class goal is:

To enable students to gain the skills needed to critically analyze the news media’s portrayal of important current and historical events, and to better understand the news media’s impact on public policy at federal, state and local levels of government.

Course objectives and other details can be found on the Toledo Board of Education’s website.

Schnerer may be onto something. In a recent study, ACT, formerly known as American College Testing, reports that the majority of college instructors find their entering students critically lack the ability to:

  • Determine central ideas
  • Identify important details
  • Draw conclusions and make inferences
  • Evaluate evidence and/or support for an author’s claims
  • Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment

The five areas above are really nothing more than steps in the logical thinking process. Therefore, on one hand, Schnerer is basically trying to meet her customers’ requirements: delivering young skulls filled with more brain than mush. A product society has been demanding from public education for years.

However, to be successful, teachers like Schnerer must go beyond simple fact-finding and verification and include contextual integration of the facts. For example, one possible definition of fake news is:

Fake news is a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation, be it via the traditional news media or via social media, with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically.