Moments like the Sarah Palin for VP pick are moments to sit back and take measure of what a complex landscape we’re living under when it comes to what to believe, Googleability, and the whole concept of “citizen journalism.” The stupidity from both sides has been amazing (the “she has foreign policy experience because she’s right next door to Russia” remark on the right and the “it really wasn’t her baby” watch on the left), and the breadth and speed with which all of the details of her and her family’s life have been coming out have been astounding to watch. In fact, we’re no doubt witnessing it in spades right now simply because it was such an out of the box pick and the MSM just wasn’t ready for it.
Good thing we’re all here to fill in.
If you listen to C-SPAN in the mornings like I do, you can’t help but agree with Bill Maher when he says the country is getting stupider and stupider. If you watch FOX or MSNBC, listen to Rush or Hannity or Ed Schultz, read the red and blue blogs, you quickly find yourself in a huge virtual, asynchronous shouting match that regardless of your political leanings will make you both tired and frustrated and longing for the one page briefing memo with just the “facts” if there still are such beasts. (By the way, does anyone want to argue that the Wikipedia article on Sarah Palin may be the most extensive, neutral point of view collection of “facts” that exist about her right now?) Yeah, everyone having a printing press is a good thing on balance. But sheesh, it sure complicates things.
And it’s been a real treat watching a good chunk of this develop with my kids, pausing the TIVO like every 30 seconds to ask them what they heard, what they think it means, and then explain why it doesn’t necessarily mean what is sounds like it means. (Don’t worry, we don’t torture them too much with this, and we do it across party lines. We can only take so much of it ourselves.) All in an effort to plant some seeds of skepticism for media in their brains. (The best quote was from Tucker, btw, who while watching Palin’s introductory speech to the nation said “Why does McCain look so nervous?”)
There must be about 3 million ways we can make all of this a “teachable moment” for our kids, from having them blog the convention goings on to creating their own campaign commercials to building their own policy wikis. (I’m sure there are many others much better than those ideas, btw.) That is, of course, assuming we have the editing skills (and we’re not just talking punctuation, here) to sift through all of it and come to some informed conclusions ourselves, that we have the ability or at least the awareness of our ability to participate in meaningful ways.
I love presidential politics, but while it usually points out what is best about this country, it also serves to remind us how really, really dumbed down the whole process has become. And unless we get some folks around here who can sift through this morass of “truth” with a little more skill, it ain’t gonna get any better any time soon.
Scott McLeod says
We could be pleased that more folks are involved rather than apathetic.
Sure, everyone having a voice makes things more complex. But would we rather go back to the days when only the big institutions had a viable voice? I wouldn’t…
One of my colleagues here at Iowa State U said, “We finally got our global village and everyone’s an idiot.” I’m not buying it. Democracy is a raucous, rough-and-tumble affair. I’m glad that folks are wading in with both feet and both fists, even when I vigorously disagree with them. Now, let’s all go out and teach our kids how to navigate the new landscape (like you are)!
Jen Boggs says
Teachable moments, indeed. I don’t mean for this to be a commercial, so please don’t take it as such, but at Scholastic (where I work) election years are a big deal, because it IS so chock full of moments to teach what it means to live in a democracy and how to behave like a responsible and informed citizen. And now, how to understand and parse the media landscape, old and new.
One big lesson that our Kids Press Corps is learning is one that I think many adults also need to pay closer attention to: what’s the difference between a reporter and a pundit/commentator? We’ve been teaching them that while reporters can (and should!) have their own opinions, it’s not their job to share them but rather to report what they’ve learned.
btw, Kid Reporters have been blogging and now Twittering from both conventions (www.twitter.com/scholasticnews). Teach on!
Jim Burke says
This has been on my mind lately as well. Last Tuesday’s post on Learning in Maine:
Dennis Harter says
Along those lines, did you see this article?
An interesting look at the way we try manipulate the information about ourselves and where people go to find it. To what degree is Wikipedia transparent and how does that shape what versions you believe?
Great discussion points for kids and adults alike.
Will Richardson says
Thanks Dennis…I think the define yourself before others define you is relevant for our kids here.
Gary Stager says
Teachable moments require teachers with the courage and curiosity to teach, especially today.
In September 2000, I attended Back-to-School-Night (for my annual blood pressure escalation ritual). My son was in 11th grade and loved History. The History teacher described how she has to “cover” Civil War to present day, but only after reviewing all of human history before that.
I raised my hand and asked, “Do you do anything to connect your subject to the real world?” She replied, “I’m not sure what you mean.” I took a deep breath and said, “Well, we have a big election coming up. Perhaps you could study that with the kids.”
The teacher replied, “They do elections next year.” Remember that this was September TWO THOUSAND. That election offered a teachable moment or two, but not in my kid’s high school where a nuclear blast next door would not interrupt the curriculum and where history teachers don’t read the newspaper.
When Joe Biden, a hero of mine since the Reagan administration, was nominated to be Vice President, I dug into my archives and showed my kids a letter I have from Senator Biden, dated 1990. I had written to the Senator (and his colleagues on the Judiciary Committee) urging him to vote against the confirmation of Judge David Souter to the Supreme Court.
I’m rambling about this because in 1990 I was reprimanded to taking time during the school days for my class of 4th graders to watch the Senate Confirmation Hearings for Justice Souter. If history or citizenship were not significant justification, I thought that 4th graders would benefit from smart people speaking well and debating in a civil fashion.
None of this is a wholesale indictment of teachers, but a plea for them to take back their profession and make teaching relevant to the world of the students they serve.
Gary Stager says
Does anyone see parallels between the nomination of Sarah Palin and the radical democratization of the blogosphere?
Isn’t this the logical consequence of the cult of the amateur and the relativism of expertise alluded to in the world of PLNs?
Will Richardson says
The logical consequence? Dunno…but parallel, maybe. But of course, we’ll just let our kids figure this stuff out all on their own.
The larger question is who says we have to accept amateur or non-expertise expertise?
Gary Stager says
There may in fact be parallels.
And yes, I tend to trust kids to make sense of the world. Their skepticism may be more acute than ours and they are at ease with the technology. In 2001, my 11-12 year-old daughter was chatting with friends using AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) when someone told her (online) that the popular singer, Aaliyah, had been killed in a Bahamian plane crash. I remember my kid telling me that her first reaction was to search credible news sites to make sure that the “news” was true. She apparently had prior experience with online rumors.
Yvonne was a 6th grader making sense of fact, fiction and propaganda in an online world before 9/11. Many of today’s edtech experts and the majority of American teachers were not even using the Internet at that point in our recent history, but my daughter was. I do not worry too much about the need to teach kids information literacy.
As for expertise…
There is a tendency in the euphoric rhetoric regarding blogging to promote a utopian form of egalitarianism in which everyone’s opinion is equal and everyone’s expertise is equivalent. There is an undermining of tradition regarding the development of expertise or of “paying dues.”
Oddly, in such a scenario people are granted superior qualifications merely because they blog, as compared to those who don’t. How else can you explain the rationale for “edubloggers” going from obscurity to keynoting conferences overnight? (I’m not talking about you, Will. In case you were wondering.)
In a funny way, blogging is “popular” culture in all of its best and most vulgar forms. Based on talent, qualifications or potential contribution to culture Rhianna is not in the same league as John Coltrane, Igor Stravinsky or Sarah Vaughan. However, given the temporal nature of pop culture and the exalted status of popularity, Rhianna commands a level of attention and reward more people with more significant talent can never dream of.
If Sarah Palin’s nomination is reality television, so are significant aspects of the blogosphere. After all we’re now currently tuned-in to the Will Richardson show.
Tom Hoffman says
No Gary, Palin is reality show not blog.
Kristin Hokanson says
I think you are correct that we need to teach kids how to navigate the new landscape…the trouble is, how to do that when many teachers are not so sure of how that landscape works themselves. Many schools block tools like youtube and wikipedia…discourage blogs for reflection. I got an opportunity to guest blog for PBS Media Infusion and point out some great resources for teachers to promote “Civic Engagement in the MySpace Age”. It gives teachers ideas as well as a framework, because I agree with Gary…kids do want to make sense of the world…it is up to us to provide them guidance in all kinds of ways to do so
Scott McLeod says
Kristin, I see the same problem with administrators. How are they supposed to lead their school organizations into the 21st century when they don’t really understand the 21st century? =)
Interesting that the Wikipedia may be the most unbiased account of Sarah Palin I’ve read so far. I thought at first reading that while factually true it was definitely written by someone(s) who wanted her to look good. This was based mostly on choice of words and level of detail on accomplishments.
I re-read the wiki on Sarah Palin just now and it is much less biased today. Certainly, the most comprehensive and least partisan account of her life and career that I have read yet.
I think it is very interesting to read the wiki and compare with the stories found in some other “news” sites.