Teaching in the age of misinformation

It’s unarguable that politics is now a part of modern society more than it ever has been before. With the growth of the internet, and its spread in accessibility across the world, more and more people across various demographics have entered the world of politics. One of the most important and potentially most impressionable demographics exposed to this topic are children and teens. Kids and teens are being exposed to politics more than generations prior, primarily through social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, just to name a few. Unfortunately, this has also led to this young demographic being fed political misinformation and exposed to extreme and polarizing views on various arguments. Thankfully, efforts are being taken across society to help combat the spread of misinformation, as well as helping kids learn to educate themselves on various political issues and topics.

Embed from Getty Images

Mount Saint Joseph’s own Mr. Ryan Folmer is an alum from the class of 1996 and has been teaching at the Mount for 17 years. He aims to help combat political misinformation within his class curricula. When asked what period of history was most significant for him to teach, Mr. Folmer stated that learning the origins of humanity is essential for his students to learn, as it helps students understand the concept of race.

There are many, but I think my core, central goal is for us to do and understand history as it really is, not a set of facts or dates to be memorized, but a process of argument and understanding about the past.

Mr. Ryan Folmer

“There are many different lessons that students need to learn, but if I had to pick one, it would be understanding the origins of our racial issues in this country; how race is a construct that has been used by people to gain and maintain power over people for centuries, but it is not natural. It is a decision people have made and continues to be made.”

When asked about his core goals as a teacher at The Mount and the Social Studies Department Chair, Mr. Folmer had this to say:

“There are many, but I think my core, central goal is for us to do and understand history as it really is, not a set of facts or dates to be memorized, but a process of argument and understanding about the past.”

Learning about how history has affected our society is the first step to understanding the spread of politics in modern society. Without this understanding of the evolution of humanity throughout history, we won’t be able to know how politics is a critical factor in our modern society’s growth.

Embed from Getty Images

With politics being a primary factor in society more than ever, it’s affected how human society views and reacts to politics. With how rapid-fire political memes and messages are shared on social media, kids and teens are being exposed to more radical and polarizing viewpoints from all sides of the political spectrum. On the one hand, it is good that kids are being exposed to political topics at an earlier age, as it will help these kids develop a thinking pattern of detecting lies and misinformation early on in their lives.

When asked about kids being exposed to politics sooner, Mr. Folmer responded with this: “I think the younger students start having these conversations, the better; they will have these skills as older students and adults without succumbing to prejudices, biases, and lies.”

Ryken Award winner, Mr. Phil Campbell has been teaching at Mount Saint Joseph for 25 years. When asked about politics being more readily available, he had this to say, “I feel that it has been helpful in providing an array of resources available to students, but it places more responsibility on the students to find accurate, less biased news.” 

The Social Studies classroom holds a quintessential role in teaching students how to evaluate and corroborate sources, whether for a research paper or just while reading your daily news.

Embed from Getty Images

Unfortunately, while kids being exposed to politics at a younger demographic can be positive, every reaction has an opposite and equal reaction. With social media comes the spread of misinformation, both through fake news articles and political and satirical memes shared around. With how widespread the internet is, people are being exposed to incorrect information daily, forming political opinions purely based on misinformation and not fact-checking their sources.

Mr. Folmer stated that the spread of misinformation has already impacted the previous election results and will continue to affect voter stances for years to come. “If you look at those who wrongly believe that the last election was illegitimate, it’s clear this is already having an impact and likely will in the coming years.”

However, all is not lost. Mr. Folmer is taking action in his classrooms and class curricula to help combat information. When asked how he is taking action against the age of misinformation, Mr. Folmer said, “I am asking my students to take a critical look at sources, ideas, narratives, their own positions, etc., and understand media biases and their own biases is at the core of so much of what we do; whether that is in a history class, a current events class, or a government and politics course.”

Embed from Getty Images

Social Studies in our schools is more critical than ever.  We rely on Social Studies to prepare students, and future voters, to think critically and carefully examine the facts.  Social Studies drives us to continue to question and discover the truth. In the earliest days of our nation, our Founders believed in the importance of civic engagement and working for the greater good; these tenants are at the heart of any Social Studies curriculum and very prominent here at The Mount.  Social Studies classes will continue to provide the skills to combat false narratives, fake news, and misinformation campaigns if we are only willing to practice the valuable lessons they offer.

Jackson Reichardt is a senior member of the Multimedia Journalism class