Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Perspective --> Purpose

Earlier this week, a commenter asked a question that I thought deserved a more in-depth response. She asked about ways to approach the study of current events with wisdom, handling issues of bias or spin and disturbing images, and seeking reliable sources.

It's a big question. How can we help our students know what is going on in the world in a way that stretches them but doesn't expose them to issues beyond their maturity level?

Unfortunately, there will always be content issues and biases, and there is no one-size-fits-all method to deal with them. Part of the answer will depend on your specific needs as a family. You are your children's first and best teacher, so you know their maturity levels better than anyone, and only you and your family can decide the best strategy for introducing challenging topics.

However, there are resources and exercises that can help you in your task. This week, I'd like to start a conversation about some of those resources.

Being aware that bias in news writing exists is one important first step. You can gain perspective on the way news stories work by looking at multiple sources for each story. Google News is a great resource because when you run a search, each news item includes links to other newspapers covering the same story.

For example, this past week's news included several articles about the men trapped in a Chilean mine. This article appeared in The Guardian: "Chile mine owners ask for forgiveness from trapped men." The Washington Post also wrote a story, but it was called, "On ice and in space: lessons for Chilean miners." Take a look! Compare the first sentence of each story.

Guardian: Owners of the Chilean mine where 33 workers face months awaiting rescue have appealed to the trapped men for forgiveness.
Post: The lessons that could help keep 33 trapped Chilean miners safe and sane during their months underground were learned at desperate times in isolated places: ice-bound sailing ships, prisoner-of-war camps, malfunctioning capsules whizzing through space.

Each news agency works from the same basic piece of news, but each one chooses a focus for the story and includes or omits details accordingly. By reading both pieces and seeing what they have in common, your understanding of the events will be much richer.

Remember: a news story contains facts, but it is a story, and as such it has an author, a focus, and a purpose. You can't eliminate those factors, but you can teach your children how to identify them. Stay tuned for part 2 to ponder specific ways to practice this type of critical thinking!

Now it's your turn: what are your tips and tricks for handling the study of current events wisely?

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