We’re just days away from an historic presidential election, and there’s nothing like an important election to get people fired up about civics, right? Well… fired up about something, anyway. Civics seems to be getting largely overlooked in many cases, as does basic research and fact checking. Most of us, no matter what our political views, have seen and heard misinformation that we believe to be true. Many of us have even passed it on to others without checking its veracity. How did we get to this point?
I have some theories, of course, but they’re not what this post is about. I want to talk about how we can all do better… and how we can help kids do better, too. How do we know what to believe, whom to trust? How do we fight against the internet’s echo chamber effects and our brains’ confirmation-seeking biases? It takes discipline, but I believe we can train ourselves (and our students) to question what they see and hear and to seek out the truth, or at least the best image of the truth they can find, even if it’s complicated.
This is a central theme of my upcoming book, TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: IT’S ALIVE!, co-authored with Ammi-Joan Paquette. The book started out as simply a fun collection of hard-to-believe—but true—facts… mixed up with some wacky but almost-believable stories such as internet hoaxes and urban legends. But as we worked, it slowly grew into something more.
First, we were a bit surprised by how easy it was to curate a massive list of possible stories to include: they were bombarding us daily on our social media feeds, newspapers and magazines, and television broadcasts. Stories like these abound! And most people don’t care whether or not they’re true. We’ll read them—and share them—as long as they’re entertaining.
Second, we were disconcerted by how hard it could be even for us—well-educated professional authors—to sort out the facts from fiction! Sometimes we were forced to abandon great story ideas because we couldn’t prove whether they were true or not. Other times we had discussions where one of us was convinced, but the other one wasn’t. Some stories we thought were true were found to be false, or vice versa, as we researched them further. And occasionally, a story was partially true but not completely, and we decided it was just too complicated to deal with in the format we were pursuing.
These factors pushed us to expand our goals for the book. Beyond being “just” entertaining, we felt we had to address the idea of information literacy head on. In addition to a detailed bibliography of the sources we used for every story, the book now contains an explanation of our process, habits that readers can cultivate to become more information literate (question everything, especially motive!), tips and activities to encourage critical thinking and analysis skills (how does this fit with my existing knowledge?), and advice on conducting high-quality research (hint: it’s not Google or Wikipedia, although those can be great places to start!).
Writing this book was such an interesting—and, at times, shocking—experience, and it taught us a lot about ourselves as authors and as human beings. We hope readers will have a similar experience, and we can’t wait to share it with them next year!
Until then, we hope you—and your students—will be careful out there. You can’t trust everything you read, see, or hear!
(For a sneak peek at some of what’s in the book, check out this reveal hosted by Pragmatic Mom.)