Truth Decay in a Period of Divisiveness

Type: Article
Topics: Curriculum & Assessment, District & School Operations, School Administrator Magazine

May 01, 2022

Executive Perspective

The world as we knew it has changed dramatically, and the changes have affected civics and news literacy. Teachers now are wary of being accused of teaching critical race theory, although, admittedly, few know what it is. It may include any reference to racism, inequality or the enslavement of Black Americans.

Consequently, the study of the rights and duties of citizenship may be affected when teachers are reluctant to address the fact that the rights of selected citizens have been violated historically. Over the past year, a number of states have passed laws outlawing the teaching of CRT in schools. These laws are ambiguous in definition but sufficient to reinforce the reluctance of teachers to cover a topic that may be regarded by some as offensive.

News literacy also has become a subject of controversy. It is affected by what has come to be known as “truth decay,” defined in RAND Corporation’s research as “the diminishing role that facts, data and analysis play in our political and civic discourse.”

Expanding the concept of news literacy to include media, the National Association for Media Literacy Education defines media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication.” RAND sees media literacy as a powerful tool in countering truth decay.

The political divisiveness also exists among educators. The teaching of civics and news or media literacy may well be affected by the teacher’s political views, according to a study published in Educational Researcher (March 5, 2020). Teachers identifying as liberal favored NPR and the BBC for their news while conservatives watched Fox News and were suspicious of CNN. Consequently, as media literacy is taught in our classrooms, teachers could be relying on sources they consider reliable, depending on their political bent./p>

A Personnel Toll

The two-plus years of this pandemic have taken a huge physical and emotional toll on educators. The exodus in the superintendency is alarming as I continue to see some of our brightest and most experienced education leaders leave the profession, either of their own accord or because the school board terminate their contract, often without cause.

The teacher shortage is equally alarming. We had a teacher shortage prior to the pandemic, but today the situation has been exacerbated by the stress teachers feel and the labor shortage in the private sector that lures away teachers by offering higher pay and less stress.

The factors responsible in part for this unfortunate development have been pandemic-related, such as in-person instruction versus virtual, the wearing or not wearing of masks and those vaccinated versus those who are not. This is an area that has been highly affected by truth decay where scientific information and the advice of health professionals often are distorted to suit a political orientation.

There is no question the education enterprise has suffered due to the lack of a generally accepted protocol on how to deal with COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control took too long to communicate the guidance that school districts were looking for and when they did, the guidance often was ignored by politicians who saw an opportunity to play to the popularity of ignoring scientifically approved mitigation measures of mask wearing and vaccination.

Building on the success politicians have had by supporting popularist notions that countered the advice of the scientific community, the targeting of critical race theory has paralleled the COVID-19 rebellion in the civics arena. As school districts began to embrace the concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion, there grew a fear that perhaps has lingered below the surface, that education had become too liberal and progressive. Even terms like social and emotional learning are under attack as examples of how the education community favors the needs of marginalized students over the needs of the majority.

Countering Parents

Sadly, many of the differences that are bandied about are the product of misinformation by a significant minority that perhaps do not care about diversity, equity and inclusion. Recent polls continue to show that more than 70 percent of parents support their neighborhood school. Moves by groups that cull the content of school libraries to remove books they deem offensive are being countered by parents who realize the danger this presents to democracy.

Efforts to counter truth decay and to emphasize the study of the rights and duties of citizenship must take place at the school building level, the grassroots of education.