Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Words --> Worldview

This is part 2 of a series following up on a question about wise ways to introduce your children to the study of current events. (Click here to read part 1). In the first part, we talked about learning to identify perspective or bias by looking at multiple sources for the same story.

Sometimes, though, you may not A) have access to multiple versions of a story, or B) find the information from major news suppliers (which at least profess non-bias).

Other major sources of information and opinion are "think tanks" or nonprofit organizations. Their websites tend to contain less and more specialized advertising, so you may run into fewer content issues (photos, etc.). The trade off is that these organizations are often closely linked to advocacy for a particular worldview or cause, and their content may be more overtly designed to persuade rather than inform.

This is a great exercise in identifying worldview first by definition (grammar) and then in application (dialectic and rhetoric). Start by looking at the organization's "About Us" page. Then, read one of their articles in light of their purpose, goals, and methods. Try to identify with your students the assumptions the organization makes, and any logical flaws in their reasoning.

Here's an example from The Heritage Foundation.

First, go to their About page. Their mission is, "to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense."

Having picked out the key nouns and verbs, pick one of their articles, like this one: "India: Fast Growth Does Not Mean a Strong Economy," by Derek Scissors.

Take a look at the first paragraph:

For reasons ranging from geopolitics to poverty alleviation, a strong India is good for the U.S. India’s strength will depend in great measure on the vibrancy of its economy. A complete picture of how the Indian economy is faring is therefore indispensable. It turns out India’s recovery from the crisis is partly illusory—its growth is not sustainable and is not creating broad prosperity.

Ask your children questions like,
  • What does this article claim or assume about the way the world works? For example, you might bring up the idea that countries should not isolate themselves (see the first sentence). Tie this idea back to the mission statement ("free enterprise").
  • Why does the author think his or her research is important?
  • Who seems to be the audience? Think about the audience mentioned on the About Us page: how might congressmen and policymakers respond to this information?
  • Does the author include statistics? Who are his or her sources?
  • Does the author present an opposing view to balance his or her own?
  • What kind of words does the author use to make his or her point? You might talk about undefined terms like "broad prosperity" and "crisis" and discuss the mood or tone of the piece. Are there words with clearly positive or negative connotations?
Remember, studying current events is about moving through the realm of words into that of ideas – ideas that shape how we think and how our culture thinks. It's a challenge, but such an important one to face. Stay tuned for part 3 to think further about tackling current events on the level of ideas!

What are your tips and tricks for handling current events wisely?

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