Critical Thinking in the Information Age Part 3: Life, the Twitterverse, and Everything

With the cavalcade of media stampeding into the lives of young people every day, what are the most valuable skills they need to learn to be able to successfully navigate all this information?  It seems logical that the more information a person has access to, the more informed they will be, but as we are seeing from the “internet generation” this may not be the case.

According to studies, 27% of teens get their news from social media.  This means that their friends’ Facebook posts and the tweets of celebrities are their primary source of information about the greater world around them.  This is not a sound method for information collection, as the amusing pictures of cats, short blurbs and 140 character messages that populate social media feeds do not give the sort of background information a person needs to fully understand our world, let alone any news worthy issue.  This is leading to a generation whose understanding of the world is based around what is popular, not what is important.  This flawed general knowledge and can lead to massively skewed world views.

For example (click here for actual link):

No disrespect to the Biebs, but in the grand scheme of things, Teddy Roosevelt, through the actions he took during his extraordinary life, has, and continues to have a bigger impact on the world.  Now, my gut really wants to say that the person in this conversation who has never heard of Teddy Roosevelt is not acing any IQ tests, but it is not fair to write them off as dumb.  He or she (but given the severity of Bieber-fever symptoms, probably she) is not necessarily stupid.  She is just not engaged in the world around her, which, honestly, for my money, is almost worse.

Without a proper understanding of the world around her, how can she make informed decisions?  She gets the same opportunity to influence people’s opinions as every other internet user, and an equal say about her country’s direction in the voting booth.  As an educator, I feel like I have a responsibility to shape the next generations to be engaged and responsible citizens.  How can we do that if the primary news source for almost one third of that generation is… each other?

One of the goals of the 21st Century skills in education is to create a life-long love of learning in students.  I had the benefit of some wonderful teachers (not to mention parents and other adults in my life) who encouraged me to be inquisitive about the world around me.  We need to be doing the same for our students.  It is important to make them find out things about the world around them, but also to help them to see the inherent value in that knowledge so that they continue to learn and expand their horizons once they have moved on from formal education.

Once out of school, they should have the skills to be in charge of their own learning, and, hopefully, to get some enjoyment out of it, not just because it is fun (which it is), or because it will make them more interesting people (which it will), but because it is going to make them better citizens.  Making them better citizens helps them to make better decisions within their society, and to raise the level of their culture.

No pressure though.

Andrew Baxter is a Secondary School Teacher and Curriculum Specialist with Enable Education.  He gets all his news from the backs of cereal boxes. 


Information Age 3 Media Awareness 2 Media Literacy 2

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