Cotton Mather has to go: What teachers can do to stop mass shootings

It occurs to me that we are THERE. When I was in graduate school, my doctoral advisor told me that the internet was pretty dangerous. It was like a library where anyone could write a book, and throw it in the window. At that time we used to marvel that anyone other than our responsible news anchors (Brokaw, Jennings, & Rather) would be able to shape what we believed. We talked about how important critical thinking was and would be to ensuring a responsible democracy.

We are there. News is no longer news, and sensation has replaced headlines. Wild stories are accepted as fact by much of the population and we’ve been living this way guys for nearly 20 years! There’s a generation who have never heard “real” news. They only know the stilted news from their favorite outlet – whether it is Fox or MSNBC. Honestly – the only news I really believe is that which comes from BBC or The Guardian. Everything else I have to search for and triangulate to determine the real story. And every story falls close enough to the truth to be convincing to those who wish to be convinced.

In Paradise Lost, this was Lucifier’s trick. Tell a lie that 1) people want to believe and 2) that is close enough to the truth that to the nondiscerning eye, it could be confused. Works every time. If this trick works (and it does) on sane and balanced people – think of what it does to those less sane and less balanced.

As I look at these “lone wolf” gunmen who terrorize our country, I think that we are seeing people who don’t think critically – who don’t or can’t triangulate their information. They look at one “news” source – the one they resonate most closely with – and they embrace it, believe it and amplify it.

You need only look at the real life story of Gabby Giffords – who Sara Palin put in the crosshairs of a rifle on a pamplet. One unbalanced person could have taken that as a little extra encouragement: tacit permission. What a dangerous place for us to be.

Critical thinking – we should be teaching this above all in schools. We should have our students compare the same story from four or five different news sources including cable and influencing blogs. We should have them practice finding the real story through critical thinking, analysis, and research of primary documents.

I know, it’s a lot to ask a child to do – but I think in today’s United States – it’s VITAL to our safety and security. Maybe gun laws won’t change. Maybe mental health won’t be addressed. Maybe some of us will never carry a gun (I won’t) and maybe some always will (my brother will). But those things are beyond our control. As teachers, I think we could integrate examination of news sources with Common Core standards very easily – using the non-fiction standards and I think we should.

Replace the Thomas Payne reading with a current analysis of news. Replace Cotton Mather with Daily Show vs. Rush Limbaugh. It’s far more relevant to us today. It could save lives and help us solve some of the problems of our current society.

If we want our kids to make sense of current events and if we want to be proactive in reducing hate, we need to empower every citizen to be a researcher and a scientist and trust evidence over any “expert”. If we don’t address this soon, we will end up in a very frightening place. Seems to me that maybe we are already there.


2 responses to Cotton Mather has to go: What teachers can do to stop mass shootings

  1. Great Points! Seems like the standards focus on “claims” and “evidence” and “reasoning” would take on real meaning — and the discussions in the classroom as students move from perceptions to facts would be dynamic and life-changing. Students would be investigators searching for the Truth, with a capital T. And that “Truth” would be an entangled web born of history. Life is just so complex.

    • akedtech says:

      Yes – it occurred to me while I was writing this I used to teach fact vs opinion in 6th grade – but the way I taught it (from the text) at the time was so far removed from that capital T Truth (student Truth) it probably wasn’t transferrable. I think we should hit this hard…we only have to look at the current situation in this country to see how important it is that we internalize our “bs detector” and value fact.

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