Fake news

At the end of our first year, my students ‘interview’ a “marvellous mind” who has inspired them. I encourage them to find online resources to study this person before writing the interview. Each year, there is at least one student who picks Martin Luther King. Searching for King will lead them to http://www.martinlutherking.org. At first sight, the website seems normal. It contains biographical information and historical backgrounds. It has an “educational video” and even features rap lyrics about the famous civil rights activist. Students are roused to “bring the dream to life in your town”. However, a closer look reveals the website is hosted by the Stormfront. A deeply racist / white supremacy / neonazi platform (“where every month is white history month”). All “information” on Martin Luther King on http://www.martinlutherking.org is subjective at best and fake at worst.


With the permission of the student who wrote the assignment on King, I will use this example to spend an entire lesson on finding reliable information on the internet. I will help them to determine how subjective information is, by studying the motives of publishing the information. We take a closer look at the Stormfront so we can determine why exactly their representation of an African-American activist is subjective. We will also study other examples, like http://www.radioislam.org. This is an deeply anti-Semite, Islamic fundamentalist platform, which hosts an “informational” section on Anne Frank, stating her diary is a fake Zionist hoax. Incidentally, Radio Islam publishes Mein Kampf in the same Anne Frank section. After this, we review sponsored “news” items on Facebook, by studying the (fake) accounts and platforms behind the publications.

This is all part of a course called “marvellous minds” which we designed for my school, the Hyperion Lyceum in Amsterdam. In this course, we dig in the treasure chest of the history of ideas for solutions to problems that are relevant in the lives of our students today. We seek for inspiration in philosophy, history, science and religion. We confront our students with ethical dilemmas and train their critical thinking through the Socratic method. Our mission: by training critical thinking and globally engaged citizenship we can prepare our children for a uncertain and increasingly complex future.

The core task of education is to prepare our children for the world. We need to raise virtuous characters, critical thinkers and ethical aware citizens. We need to teach our children not to take anything for granted. Doubt both the general assumptions as well your own.

This is especially true for recognizing reality and valuating honesty. With the fake news epidemic, alternative facts and governments that use lies as a political instrument, these skills are now more relevant than ever.


Een gedachte over “Fake news

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