Teaching Social Studies in the Era of “Alternative Facts”
In his article, “Fake News, Alternative Facts, and Trump: Teaching Social Studies in a Post-Truth Era,” Wayne Journell paints a clear picture of how the current government leadership and the American media have together birthed the era of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” It is in this era that American citizens can willingly “disregard verifiable facts as fake simply because they contradict their agenda” or their own worldview (8). It is in this era that American citizens can turn to media outlets of their choice to hear news and ideas that only reinforce their own viewpoints. It is in this era that Social Studies teachers are needed more than ever. Journell remarks that “both political thinking and media literacy are skills that need to be taught and practiced over time” (10). While teacher training and education research will continue to address these topics, Journell offers some guidance for Social Studies teachers in the meantime.
What Does “Trustworthy Evidence” Mean to Students?
Facebook. Instagram. 24-hour news. Twitter. Gossip. Newspapers. School. Television. Today students are bombarded with information about the world. As accessing information becomes easier, the task of determining the accuracy of information becomes increasingly difficult. What is fact? What is misleading? What is trustworthy evidence?
In their paper, “Thinking Deeply, Thinking Emotionally: How High School Students Make Sense of Evidence” authors Rebecca Jacobsen et al. explain that teachers are “increasingly being asked to prepare students to both evaluate information critically and use evidence to construct arguments” (2). These education requirements are set in national education standards, including Common Core for English Language Arts, History/Social Science, and Technical Subjects, as well as in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (2). The authors note that in the NGSS, students “engage in arguments from evidence” starting in kindergarten (2).
Jacobsen et al. remark that for these education standards, it is assumed that students know what evidence is and that all students accept and use evidence is similar ways. Previous studies have shown that this is not always the case, however.