We Are in Big Trouble!

Information nowadays is literally at our fingertips. Back in 1997, Jan Hawkins lamented the fact that schools were trailing behind in the internet revolution. She imagined all of the compelling opportunities for both students and teachers provided by advances in educational technology. She indeed saw technology only as a tool, reminding that we needed to use it intelligently, but she did not foresee how technology could be used to destroy truth and therefore society.

For several years, I worked in helping establish classrooms with computers and internet connectivity in elementary schools in the Philippines. At that time, I knew that it was important that these new avenues for both information and communication are vetted. Yet, what often caught the interest and time of both students and teachers are social sites and information sources that are hardly trustworthy. And fast forward to present days, the situation has become more dire.

Without the prohibitive cost of printing and watchful eyes of responsible editors, spreading information is now so easy on the internet. These highways sadly have been made accessible before people have developed the digital literacy required to assess and evaluate the reliability of the information provided. The internet has therefore become a powerful weapon for misinformation.

The future does look bleak even in a developed country like the United States. A recent national survey of high school students shows that more than ninety percent cannot even see the serious problem with a climate change website that has ties with the fossil fuel industry. Nine in every ten young people in the United States do not see why an article that pushes the idea, that the historically high carbon dioxide level currently in our atmosphere is a good thing, is really problematic.

Above copied from
CO2 Science

For any site touting to be a reliable source of information, it is important to check who is behind the information. But when looking for the source of funding, the following is the response from CO2 Science:


Above copied from
CO2 Science

The following is what is currently known with regard to who funds CO2 Science and who benefits from it:

Above copied from
DESMOG

CO2 Science is a shady source of information yet more than nine out of ten young Americans fail to see this.

Above copied from
Breakstone, J., Smith, M., Wineburg, S., Rapaport, A., Carle, J., Garland, M., & Saavedra, A. (2019). Students’ civic online reasoning: A national portrait. Stanford History Education Group & Gibson Consulting. https://purl.stanford.edu/gf151tb4868

The dismal scenario cuts across all races. However, there are gaps according to race in the above graph. These gaps are similar to academic achievement gaps. In fact, a gap also exists based on family income:

Above copied from
Breakstone, J., Smith, M., Wineburg, S., Rapaport, A., Carle, J., Garland, M., & Saavedra, A. (2019). Students’ civic online reasoning: A national portrait. Stanford History Education Group & Gibson Consulting. https://purl.stanford.edu/gf151tb4868

There is hope, however, since these gaps are similar to those found in academic achievement. In fact, we do see a correlation between grade level and online reasoning.

Above copied from
Breakstone, J., Smith, M., Wineburg, S., Rapaport, A., Carle, J., Garland, M., & Saavedra, A. (2019). Students’ civic online reasoning: A national portrait. Stanford History Education Group & Gibson Consulting. https://purl.stanford.edu/gf151tb4868

Therefore, we can indeed teach students to become critical in the way they digest information from the internet. This can be learned. But we must act fast. The national survey concludes, "Educational systems move slowly. Technology doesn’t. If we don’t act with urgency, our students’ ability to engage in civic life will be the casualty."




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