As a social studies instructor, I think this question is perhaps the most important of our time.
Never before have we had the option to end our entire existence. And as time marches on, our options for ending ourselves only continue to grow more numerous. The nuclear age has given us the most obvious and instant way in which humans can extinguish life.
This threat still looms over us despite the Cold War ending after Rocky defeated Drago in an epic bout of punching and endurance nearly 30 years ago.
Perhaps if more people knew just how close we have come to Kingdom Come, more would demand that more reductions should take place. Or not. Humans are terrible at recognizing threats that aren’t literally staring them in the face like the barrel of a gun.
Shifting gears to the classroom (don’t worry, the existential dread will be touched upon again) and we know already how social media has been used for awful things by teenagers and adults alike. Yet, most if not all of my students have at least one app on their phone they use to send messages, pictures, and the like to one another (no seriously, I did a survey).
But teens are different you say. “Their brains are still forming, no duh they make bad choices”, you smugly say to yourself in an effort to feel better about the future. Unfortunately, there are some disturbing trends that correlate with this increase in technology access that should cause you some serious concern.
Yet we march on just hoping that our treatment facilities and raised awareness will offset these issues. And maybe as the stigma slowly wanes regarding mental health some improvements will be made. However, those who manage and deal with mental health problems may not have many people they can speak to. The sad irony is that while we’ve never been more connected to one another, we’ve also never felt more isolated from each other.
Did I say we’d return to the existential dread? Sorry, I lied. We never left it.
Now that we’ve established I’m a liar. Let’s go further down this rabbit-hole.
Privacy as we know it is dead. The PATRIOT Act and all of our alphabet agencies secured it as a measure of “national security”. You might be saying, “well, at least we aren’t living in China or some dictatorship.” Despite being technically true, which we all know is the best form of truth.
Speaking of China, they, in their infinite wisdom, decided to institute a “social credit” system that monitors individuals’ behaviors and rates them on how well they are as a “citizen”. If your score drops too low then you may be barred from traveling or starting a business. The future is bright indeed.
“That’s the problem with those dang socialist commie governments!” a right-leaning fellow says, probably. If the government just stopped interfering and let us live our lives we’d be fine, right?
The week many students have been anticipating with equal parts glee and dread. Happy that it’ll soon be over; terrified that it will consume them whole before it passes.
As I grade my students unit 5 exams regarding Latin America, I can’t help but wonder what other ways I can assess my students besides the exam format. Ideally, unit 5 would’ve been a project-based assessment but time constraints and some personal stuff prevented this.
But more to the point, I realize that I am biased in what skills I value. Reading, writing, and analyzing. More than a few of my freshman students really struggle with writing in particular and not just typical convention/spelling errors. Nor is it just IEP/504/ELL students either, because honestly, I don’t have many of those in particular. Yet, having experienced the so-called “real world”, I recognize that writing skills are extremely important. Especially as the robits come for any job that doesn’t require a human touch.
A slightly smaller gripe is that the format of my tests so far takes a lot of time. Which I get, writing is hard. I love me so multiple-choice, matching, and true or false questions as much as the next teacher but those can only ask or measure so much. I use them but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t weigh or value the writing portions of my exams more.
So what is a newbie teacher to do? I know that I can integrate more project/problem-based stuff into my classes but at the same time, it makes me worried that many, if not most, of the students, won’t learn/retain the most important information from a unit. And I’m not talking fine-detail, nuanced stuff here. I’m talking big-picture, “this is why the world is this way” type of material.
I want to have faith that most will make me feel silly for worrying.
But faith is scary.
And fear is the path to the dark side.
Fear leads to anger.
Anger leads to hate.
And hate leads to suffering.
In all seriousness, it’s a struggle. Just have to be willing to try and (probably) fail.
Curation of content can be a confusing and difficult process.
Determining why you are curating is easily the hardest part of the process. Considering this is a blog more skewed towards fellow educators here are some, truly random sources and sites that I use to figure to learn new stuff, strategies, and lessons.
reddit.com: One of the most visited sites in the world, if you aren’t using this tremendous community then you are behind the times. There is literally a subreddit for anything. And I mean everything (seriously, make sure to turn off all NSFW content if you value your job).
With that in mind, I can nerd out on any history or social studies topic there could possibly be. I also love science too and there are too many subreddits to list for that as well. In no particular order:
r/history, r/historyteachers, r/technology, r/futurology, r/teachers, r/todayilearned, r/askhistorians, r/askreddit, r/politics, r/documentaries just to name a few.
socialstudies.org: As the famous philosopher Notorious B.I.G. once said, “if you don’t know, now you know.”
Handy standards AND some free lesson ideas. What’s not to like? The paywall? Yeah, that’s a bummer, fair point.
sheg.standford.edu: Despite my anger with ‘Furd and their consistent ability to ruin an Oregon Duck football season and then go on to completely stink it up. Stanford actually does something well.
Full lesson downloads w/ a free account. Promotes student-led learning but has DI lessons as well.
voiceofwitness.org: As a PoC, (the non-AVID kind, but also the AVID kind). I love bringing in perspectives that are different from the typical textbook, WASPy viewpoints. Big focus on social justice (I’m a self-professed social justice rogue because party diversity is important) and human rights.
newvisions.org: US and Global History for daaaaaayyyyssssss. For me, a great starting point to adapt or create from.
newsela.com: Another popular one but has to be included for the simple fact that selectable leveled-reading articles from a ton of topics can adapt to ELL or below-level readers.
Wikipedia.org: The bane of educators really isn’t so bad. All the information is cited (except when it isn’t) and that alone can be a great exercise for both teacher and student alike. Does this entry on the magic beans the guy on the corner just sold me seem legit? Let’s scroll to the bottom and find out.
Youtube.com: Commence the gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair. How could we (I) stoop so low as to think youtube could ever seriously be considered reliable and accurate content to show or use in a classroom?
Aside from all the random documentaries, news segments, and historical footage on the platform. There are some seriously entertaining and amazing content creators regarding all kinds of topics. And yes the memes are plentiful. But hey if my students can understand that Germany was repelled back by Russian forces at Stalingrad and eventually all the way to Berlin because of Tom and Jerry, then best believe I’m going to continue using that stuff. It’s gold, Jerry! (HIstory Buffs, Simple History, Crash Course, Kurzgesagt, 10-minute history, Extra Credits, John D. Ruddy for specific channels to check out)
Books: Unfortunately, I can’t link to tangible objects in our 3D plane (yet), so I’ll just have to tell you about them. Howard Zinn’s People’s History of America and Empire are fun regardless of what you think on the viewpoint. Guns, Germs, and Steel is one of my all-timers. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers is also endlessly fascinating and provides another great, non-racist-y explanation for European domination of the world. Literally could continue for paragraphs but if you’re reading this you probably have others you swear by.
Podcasts: Hardcore History, single-handedly led me to develop a semesters-worth of content on The Great War. Seriously, I’m just waiting for the right moment/staff/administration to pitch it to. True Crime and the legal system are another area of mine that I can spend hours geeking out about so Serial, Last Podcast on the Left, Sword and Scale, and Criminal are morbid and gruesome but I’m totes into that.
And all this content gets filtered into this site, my google classroom, my slideshows, and my activities. Hopefully, you found something new or interesting to draw content from. If not well, hope you didn’t mind the 8-10 minutes it took to read all of this. Sorry, not sorry.
Wednesday the 31st of October (yesterday, as of this writing) was amazing. My global studies class is on unit 4 of 5 which is Russia. We’re already a day behind because freshman students are very slow at taking tests. But that’s a small gripe in the grand scheme of things.
Of the three classes I teach, the first two are good-great. My last class, however really like to talk. They have their moments though, and yesterday was one of them. I put together an awesome lesson on a real-life mystery deep in the Ural mountains. Every class was super into it and it was really fun to see them try and figure it how it ended.
I went home yesterday feeling fulfilled and eager to do more of them in the future. Today was back to some direct instruction. Like I said, we’re behind schedule. I realize that lectures aren’t always the most exciting things for students. But I try to build breaks into my slideshows (which I spend a lot of time on and take pride in their quality) so students eyes don’t begin to glaze over. I try my best to inject humor and drama and speak to them in terms they understand.
So as we moved on from the Tsars of Russia and onto the Soviet Union, what was supposed to be a fun speech using my limited Russian vocab. while wearing an Ushanka, complete with Soviet Pin and USSR anthem in accompaniment. But it’s hard to have that enthusiasm when students don’t have it. But I guess that comes with the territory.
I do worry though about how exhausting this term has been at some points. But I imagine that as I get better with planning and iterating on my current lessons this stressful time won’t feel as stressful. Here is to year 3. 2 more to beat the odds.
“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.” – Winston Churchill.
We are facing an epidemic. Never before have people been able to access the totality of human knowledge as easily as now. Not only is the access readily available but the sheer amount of information available is truly staggering. Yet, it appears that the shadow of ignorance has only grown whilst the light of truth has waned.
Heavy-handed metaphors aside, it is disheartening and at times, terrifying how just flat- out wrong, misinformed, and ignorant our fellow citizens can be. On a personal note, I deleted my facebook a month ago and it has been the most liberating experience. No longer am I constantly exposed to absolute cancer that is facebook comments. And that is not just solely due to people being jerks.
It would be one thing if people were correct in their assertions but came across as snobbish or rude. Obviously, no one can be 100% correct all the time, mistakes happen but what happens in our online discourse and has seeped into our real life discourse is what is killing civility and our ability to see other perspectives.
That thing is Truthiness. Coined by current Late Night host Stephen Colbert, truthiness is something that feels true or seems to be true, regardless of whether it actually is.
This was already an issue well before the era of “fake news”, but this new era (#darkesttimeline) has only exacerbated this existing issue. Add in some tried and true logical fallacies (confirmation bias, sample size, etc.) and you’ve suddenly had, otherwise thoughtful, people believing that these images or stories are true.
Like this picture of George W. Bush (to whom I must thank for the name of this blog) is seen holding a children’s book upside down. Regardless of your ideology and political beliefs/party. This should set off all kinds of alarm bells. But many gobbled up this photoshop and presented it as just another reason why W. was “too stupid” to be President.
The Trump photo is so outlandish I can’t even begin to express how frustrating it is to imagine anyone believing it was real. Yet, some did and it spread across email forwards and Facebook pages last year like wildfire. Finally, we have President Obama taking public transportation next to a sleeping commuter. I’m sure Secret Service was fine with the Head of State riding a busy train. Certainly, there couldn’t be any security threats to contend with. He rides the train just like you and me!
My students, our students are having just as hard of a time as our grandparents from discerning the real news stories and photos from the fake. Russian and former Eastern Bloc countries spend thousands of dollars and man-hours on spreading fake news. Their goal is simple, sow discord and further drive a wedge between Americans. As teachers of history, we have to recognize that propaganda and fake news aren’t new. The only thing that has changed is technology. If the Gutenberg was a smoothbore musket, then the internet is an AK-47. Faster firing, easier to use and in some parts of the world more than others: deadly.
What is to be done? Well, first we need to form a political party for workers to unite under and become the vanguard of the revolution! Sorry, Lenin was at the keyboard for a second. As educators, we must bring our own biases. We should recognize that first and foremost and inform our students that we, like them, aren’t infallible. Second and more importantly, we must give them the tools they need to spot fake stories and pictures.
FactCheck.org has a great checklist for students to consider especially regarding news stories. All educators should take make lessons for our students to determine if stories are real or fake. Is the source credible? Who wrote it? Is it sponsored-content? Are other outlets reporting it? These are all good questions to ask, but there is something more we need to do.
An often overlooked aspect for fakery is images and video. Without technical knowledge of photo and video editing, it becomes much harder to discern what was real and what is fake. Do some pixels appear out of focus? Is there blurring around edges? Do proportions look off? Lighting is a major issue and very tough to fake but if you don’t view it with a skeptical lens, you may gloss over it. Does the audio sound too good for the environment the video takes place? Are there any obvious cuts or edits to the audio? Is the big “gotcha” moment preceded by a jump cut or other edit? Why were they filming in the first place? Even for the less tech-capable among us, we should learn how to spot these issues, because if we cannot, how can we expect our students to?
Thankfully, history has so many journalistic lessons and activities that can help students learn what actual journalism entails and teach them the questions they should ask of their local, regional, and national reporting outlets.
Film-making can help students learn those technical skills but also let students’ interests take them to their destination. In global studies class, students can develop a video guide to traveling to a different country. This requires that they do research, learn customs, and speak with people that come from different backgrounds.
In history class, the members of the civil rights movement are still alive. What personal and emotional stories do they have to offer? Such rich personal histories are untapped, begging for an audience. The hardships and horrors of wars both old and new are waiting to be told to a new generation.
Civics classes can explore the nuances of local government and how it affects those more proportionally than many national and state policies. Why are certain rules and regulations in place? Who creates them? What recourse does the average person have to combat policies they feel are unjust? Are there policies at school that should be reconsidered? If so, how can that change be brought about?
Economics, a journalistic approach can be taken to explore popular consumer items among their peers. Why did “x product” become so popular? Was it just a fad? Who profited from its popularity? Has there been a product in the past that resembled this one? If so, what was its path to market and is it still around today?
Finally, we just have to stop being lazy. We have to put in the work to verify something is accurate. Yes, we don’t want to start questioning every news story or event like a tinfoil-wearing loony, we still must do our due diligence. Or we become part of the problem we’re seeking to solve.
So if you believe that Winston Churchill said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.” then I have bad news for you: He didn’t.
Johnathan Swift said something similar around 200 years before Churchill was battling in the Gallipoli Campaign. Then in 1855, 19 years before Churchill entered the world, Charles Haddon Spurgeon a London preacher popularized it.
“You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.” – Abraham Lincoln
I know that I have to work hard on not taking criticism so personally. Yet, like scaling Mt. Everest, a task easier said than dunn (RIP Prodigy, if you want some good grading music (not at school) then try some Mobb Deep).
So as I sat grading students first real test on my couch as I watched Penn State execute easily one of the worst 4th down play calls I’ve ever seen, I wondered what is good feedback. (The juxtaposition of those sentences and its irony is not lost on me).
“Great Job!” or “Excellent!” just don’t seem to cut it. I know as a student I engage with feedback probably on an unhealthy level. Not much keeps me up at night, I can fall asleep just about anywhere in under five minutes but if I’m obsessing over an evaluation the minutes can turn into hours. These students are kids, so I don’t want to overwhelm them with so much feedback they can’t process it fully yet I really want to avoid cookie-cutter statements of praise or not-praise (for lack of a better word).
Still being new to grading and giving written feedback I know that I’ve probably spent way too much time going through these short-answer questions and but I left them pretty open-ended which means that students had a variety of ways to skin these six question-cats.
Perhaps that’s the lesson to take away from this; narrow focus on facts. What an awful lesson.
Now I get to find out which of my students will turn on me after they see their grades on the test. How many of my students will stay up late tonight wondering why I graded them the way I did? Who will brush it off and not care? Can’t wait to find out.