Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Message To Students: Please Do Your History Homework

I'll be the first to admit that as a teenager, my social life took precedence over history class all day long.  Fortunately for me, those were the days when we could memorize facts and dates just long enough to regurgitate them onto a test before they self-destructed like the tape on the old Mission Impossible television series. A couple of years later my family made the first of many trips to Washington, D.C., and my perspective on history was changed forever.  There was something life-changing about getting close enough to see and touch artifacts from events that I'd only heard about in class or read about in books.

Much later, in my career as an educator, I had an opportunity to do something that most do not; a chance to go back and have a redo in high school history and government, this time as an inclusion teacher. A few extraordinarily dedicated teachers welcomed me into their classrooms, giving me an opportunity to learn like a kid again, and this time I didn't squander it. Because of them, I was able to support my students in an effective manner.

More importantly, I was able to answer the question, "Why do we have to learn this?" with passionate conviction. The short, simple answer to that question is this.

1-We must know where we've been, in order to know where we're going.

2-If we truly want to honor the sacrifice of those who fought and died for our country, we owe it to them to learn exactly what they were fighting for.

3-Our country is and always has been great. That being said, we've made mistakes in the past, some pretty horrendous. We've mistreated individuals, groups, and entire races of people.  It's important to examine those mistakes in the hope of never repeating them.

If I could share a few words of advice with today's young people this is what I would say:

1. Please stay awake in your history classes.

2. Ask questions.

3. Watch all of the news channels, not just one. Engage your own brains. Fiercely guard against allowing yourselves to be brainwashed into believing only one point of view to the exclusion of all other possibilities.

4. Fact check online, using multiple sources and sites. Make sure you use only reputable sites.  Take the time to educate yourself on the real meaning of "fake news" and how to spot it. has a good article on how to do this. Some news organizations (ex. Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Forbes) have been around for over one hundred years, with well-established reputations. They didn't earn those reputations by lying to their readers. With that in mind, it is still never a bad idea to double check the information using other, equally reputable sources.  Sometimes, in spite of their best intentions, journalists make errors, report information erroneously, and/or just "get it wrong".  On those occasions, reputable journalists will issue a retraction and/or an apology.  This is, quite simply, an error, not "fake news".  Sources and individuals who never admit to errors are not to be trusted.

5. Watch video presentations/documentaries, keeping in mind that not all documentaries are created equal.  Some present information as fact, while actually displaying a partial truth or twisted version of facts. It is important to find out who or what organization is presenting the information and make sure that organization does not have a hidden agenda.  Fact check the information to ensure accuracy.

6. Keep in mind that ultimately, the most accurate version of facts is usually (not always, but usually) the one that sounds the most logical, the least inflammatory, sensationalized or far-fetched. Common sense is your friend.

7. Based on your own research, draw your own conclusions, develop a conviction and share it.  Get comfortable with the idea of respectfully speaking out for what you believe in. In today's world, with the bombardment of information and misinformation through social media, we must all get used to speaking out for what we believe in and why we feel the way we do.

8. Please remember and appreciate the gift of the First Amendment: We are all individuals, with differing views and we all have the right to have our views heard in a respectful and peaceful context.  Notice there is no mention that our first amendment rights are only honored when we agree with our neighbors, our friends or our political leaders.  

You are entitled to your opinion regarding political candidates and government policy just as others are.  Some people will disagree with you, just as you will disagree with some people, and that's okay. What is not okay is shaming others for their opinions, or allowing yourselves to be shamed for yours. Our country is being challenged today in a way that it has never been challenged before.  Please pay attention and emotionally invest in your country. Not only does our democracy depend on it, but your way of life and that of your future children depend on it as well.

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