Happy 4th of July! America, Education, and Democracy

Education, and most importantly critical thinking, are foundations of a working democracy.


In the midst of celebrating the fourth of July, NPR sent out a series of tweets quoting the Declaration of Independence. It has been their tradition for the past 29 years to read this historic document on the air on Independence Day. This year they opted to use social media rather than the radio.  http://www.npr.org/2017/07/04/534096579/a-july-4th-tradition-the-declaration-of-independence-read-aloud


They received a strong response, not necessarily positive. Many people viewed it as an attack on the current presidency and were quick to defend their political views, completely failing to realize the tweets were part of the Declaration of Independence, and the tyrant referred to was King George III from the 1700’s. CNN commentator, Don Lemon, had a brief discussion with a panel of guest speakers about the lack of context in the tweets, and the subsequent misunderstanding.



There is an important lesson to be learned, not just political, but also the importance of context and education to a functioning democracy.


It is disturbing that our political climate renders the words of our founding fathers’ so incendiary, considering they refer to a conflict over 200 years old. The truly disturbing issue, however, is how easily social media causes people to react without understanding the context of the information that they are reacting to. The dialogue has been reduced to sound bites. We are losing the framework and fullness of the discussion in terms of both complete, accurate information and visual cues from tone of voice, facial expressions, and background of the person’s character and knowledge of the subject they are speaking about. This is exactly what we as educators, parents, and citizens need to reinforce to this upcoming, social-media using generation (and remember ourselves)- the importance of evaluating information and identifying the basis of preconceived ideas that influence our responses. To spend more time thoughtfully processing, rather than immediately reacting.


The NPR tweets misunderstanding is also an example of the importance that the new, and current, generation have knowledge of their government and the history that preceded our current affairs. It is difficult to claim to be holding true to the founding fathers’ ideals and have rational, meaningful discussions about current domestic and foreign policies without an educated background.


I am not a government or history teacher, whose niche this easily fits into. However, the ability to think critically and analyze what others say and write is obviously becoming an important, and often lacking, skill that can be addressed in any classroom regardless of subject. Increasing the rigor of standardized testing and the specific wording of the TEKS is meant to push teachers to teach more than the basics of their content. The goal, and challenge, is to teach students how to think critically, analyze information, make inferences, and evaluate. These are higher-level thinking processes that are difficult to teach and therefore cause a lot of push-back from teachers, parents, and students alike, but nevertheless are as important as the fundamentals.


There is a deluge of information at our fingertips through social media. Often this information is without a frame of reference or factual basis. The ability to analyze and critique what we read or hear based on the source, the context, and without immediately inserting our own personal biases is difficult but increasingly crucial. As educators we are on the front-lines to help students practice and apply these skills.


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