As an advocate of literacy, I believe that it is essential to equip students with the necessary skills to not only communicate their message effectively and on multiple platforms including digital ones; but also to create critical consumers of information. Modeling and honing these skills allows students to discern digital information, analyze and evaluate what they read, and develop clear arguments. The Common Core has placed great emphasis, not only on reading standards, but also on writing standards, to prepare students for the increasing rate at which information is generated and distributed.
Discernment of digital information is daunting. Reliable and relevant resources are intermixed with fictitious and fallacy-laden websites. Today, our students must sift through the plethora of resources, identifying information, not only for learning, but for social and entertainment. As an educator, I have many stories of students citing unreliable sources, but one specific example that happened years ago helped to shift my thinking.
It was during senior writing class, and students were sharing their multi-genre iSearch projects. A young man shared his view on Martin Luther King Jr., and informed the class about the “truth” concerning man that we consider a great leader. He had information, graphics, and even small cards to pass out to classmates who wanted to learn more…
Upon further investigation, I realized he was citing information, as well as printing off hanging foamboards, from the website, MartinLutherKing.org, which, at first glance, seems like a credible resource; but upon further investigation, one learns is hosted by StormFront, a white supremacist group. This teachable moment fueled a shift in my thinking from one of just simply promoting digital literacies, to one of empowering students to be advocates for themselves and others.
Hate is real and ubiquitous. From conversations and propaganda, to digital information and the wilds of college, I knew that my students were unable to identify and argue against the fallacies that invaded their lives. I needed an activity that not only encouraged students to examine language, but required them to dismantle the hate that was now burning in their hands from the flyer their classmate just passed out. And all of this, without seeming biased, leading, or threatening.
I had forgotten about this unit until a recent #CAedchat. The topic, “Making Safe Spaces for LGBTQ Youth” moderated, that week, by my friends @LS_Karl and @JStevens009 evoked a memory of this unit, and a promise to share in a blog post.
Disclaimer: This unit was influenced and created through the ideas and sharing of many educators. Teaching Tolerance is a great resource for educators interested in “diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools”; and because of this, it was where I started.
Driving Question: Does the right to Free Speech extend to hate groups?
To begin the unit, students, individually, completed the Anticipatory Activity which allowed them to reflect on their current thinking. At the end of the unit, these prompts were again revisited and reflected upon.
As a large group, I read the following except from the NAAWP (National Association for the Advancement of White People). Found Here I gave each student a copy as I read it aloud to them. Next, students returned to the text, highlighting information they felt may not be true, but sounded like the author was stating it as fact.
Through a class discussion and a sharing of textual evidence, emotions, and frustrations, I introduced the concept of fallacies. Very few students had an understanding of fallacies and how language was used to manipulate the intended audience. A short introduction, followed by the completion of this Common Fallacies used in Hate Rhetoric sheet, students were paired and invited to select a paragraph from the NAAWP text I shared earlier and label their highlights with the corresponding fallacy.
The next day, I modeled the dismantling of the Martin Luther King website, hosted by Stormfront. I not only identified fallacies used in the text, but also analyzed and evaluated the website as a whole, using this sheet as a guide.
Students then chose a specific website to, independently, practice the skills. I shared with them the Hate Directory as a place to start (fyi, many of these sites had to be unblocked at school because they were filtered automatically).
The following day students had 3 mins to share their findings.
Reflection… This is still one of my most fondest memories in teaching . No matter gender, race, or creed; all students were engaged, viewing information, dismantling language and sharing their analysis. In fact, years later, I had a student share with me that this unit, and the understanding of fallacies and language use, was something that “they actually used” after graduation. They were involved in a conversation with a group of new friends and recognized the fallacies and inconsistencies that spewed from the mouth of another. Not only were they able to refute the claims, but they were also able to support their rebuttal by naming the fallacies! (I was smiling the whole time my former student was sharing the story!)