Teaching Research is an Act of Citizenship


My senior advisory boys are 18 and they are preparing to vote in their first election ever. But as we sit and talk about what that means, they say things like, “Hillary is a criminal.” “The media is trying to rig the election.” “I’m voting for Johnson because he is the most qualified.” “Trump is just like Hitler, only worse because he’s friends with the Russians.” When I ask for facts to support their assertions, they cannot give them to me. They throw around catchphrases and show me memes that they have seen splashed across social media with zero actual evidence.

I wish I could say that this was only true for my 18-year-old boys who are entering their first political decision, but unfortunately I’m seeing the same sort of ignorant polarizing pronouncements from many people, many whom I even love and admire. I am angrier than I have ever been during an election and am having difficulty not taking umbrage at the circus that is representing my country right now.

At times, I feel disheartened that we have come to this, dismay tainting my outlook on humanity. But as a teacher, if I want to stay effective, I cannot approach the world with pessimism. Our profession must instead move forward every day with a secret curriculum of the heart that is rooted in the belief that we can help our students develop into thoughtful, tolerant, critical thinkers and problem solvers. We need to believe that what we teach is essential for our students to become educated members of a greater community, and we need to understand that what we don’t teach sends implicit messages of priority to our children.  So how do we weave this into our classrooms?

We teach research.

And I mean we teach inquiry-based, authentic research that relies on the ethical consumption of news as often as possible. We give students the opportunity to ask real questions, find real answers, and develop real conclusions. In the classroom, research is my passion, but now more than ever, I must emphasize that teaching research skills is not just critical for academic purposes; it is our civic responsibility. Our students must become masters at assessing resources, reading for bias, analyzing purpose and legitimacy, synthesizing multiple sources, and drawing their own conclusions based on data and facts. They must be smart in their strategies and able to recognize dubitable material. They must have the stamina to read deep into accounts and ask the right questions.

The very fact that so many voters this election season cannot distinguish fact from fiction; real events from conspiracy; or allegation from truth is an indictment of an education system that has not caught up with the on-demand-news-cycle world and we must take control of it now.

Teaching our students to research well is the most critical skill we can help nurture in order to move the national dialogue to one that is civil and based on reality.  Research is an act of citizenship. An act of humanity. An act of decency.

Do it for your students’ futures, yes. But do it for all of ours, please.

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