Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Don't Believe Everything You Read!

An article about a controversy regarding a textbook used in a 4th grade classroom was recently posted to a librarians' mailing list that I'm on. The author of the textbook, who is not a professional historian, used websites from an organization called the Sons of Confederate Veterans to support the claim - disputed by experts - that thousands of African Americans fought on the side of the South during the Civil War. This argument is put forward by organizations which attempt to minimize slavery as a factor in the Civil War.

Situations such as this can make for wonderful conversations about the validity of sources. They are reminders to young people not to believe everything they read, whether it's in print or on the Internet (the same goes for everything they see or hear on television or the radio)! Mistakes happen and information can be skewed deliberately to further an agenda.

When I talk about this type of case with students (as well as the importance of bibliographies so people can check on sources!) two examples I like to share are the War of the Worlds and Snopes. Megan McCarthy has written a great book for young people called Aliens are Coming! The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast. The original listeners' credulity may strain belief today, but the existence of Snopes, a site which verifies or debunks urban legends forwarded by email, shows that people still have a tendency to accept as true anything delivered via a medium they trust.

Encourage your son or daughter to develop his or her critical thinking skills by questioning what they read and hear. Discuss together the information presented in commercials, newspaper articles, etc. In 5th grade library classes we have been working on distinguishing between fact and fiction, as well as on paraphrasing - putting information from a source into one's own words without changing the original meaning or adding personal opinions. These are challenging skills, but they are crucial ones in our increasingly media and information saturated lives.

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