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Seeing More Clearly in an Opinionated World

In (for example) news, history, sociology, psychology, management, or marketing, I don’t think there’s such a thing as an “opinion-free zone.” Maybe in math and some of the sciences, but even there you find opinions.

Once upon a time I had a history/government teacher who gave us a homework assignment I haven’t seen since. It was to read an article in a newspaper or magazine about current events and then…

11-18 Through a Screen Vaguely

…and then to write a page or two to say what the article was about—and to note where the article veered away from straight reporting to include opinion or bias.

We didn’t just do this once, but every week for weeks on end. The repetition was illuminating.

Before this, I thought, in my naïve high-school mind, that journalists reported “just the facts.”

Not true. There was bias everywhere. And this was so even before there were cable news shows and independent Internet news sites. It’s not that this is a bad thing: we all have opinions.

But here’s the question: are we equipping our young people to read or to watch the news (or read history, or do a host of other things) and to notice where the facts leave off and opinion creeps in?

They should be able to say, “Here’s the main point of the story… This happened. And this part is opinion, bias, or some attempt at persuasion.” Factual wheat and opinionated chaff (which a person can agree with or not).

I don’t know about you, but my bias is for our students (and adults) to be able to pick out the bias. If they can do this, they won’t accidentally adopt someone else’s opinions without realizing it. Instead, they will be better equipped to see what they are reading or watching more clearly—for what it is—and then they can make up their own minds.

Being able to recognize opinions when we see them can be a huge help all through our lives as we make decisions, solve problems, manage our lives, and provide our insights to others.

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  • jeannefarrington

    A friend who teaches high school wrote, “If kids could tell the difference between fact and opinion, we could look forward to a better world.”