Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500 Year History is as fascinating and disturbing as it sounds, a detailed account of our country’s love affair with magical thinking and conspiracy theories. According to Andersen, our national character was seeded by hucksters luring gullible Englishmen to the colonies with false promises of easy gold and religious zealots, too extreme even for Protestant Europe, striking out for an new promised land. Even when these expectations failed to jive with reality, these first transplants felt fortunate to find what seemed to be unlimited space and freedom to start the world anew. “In America,” writes Andersen, “there was an infinity of highways and new places not so far away where outcast true believers could move” (35). Andersen is referring to exiled Puritan Anne Hutchinson here, but he could just as easily be writing about Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, or Joel Osteen.
It’s taken a few years, but I think I’ve finally got my library rules down. Sharing them with my middle and upper school students at the beginning of the year is fun and sets a good tone for the year. The kids really do say hi!
Think that you might be wrong.*
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Remember, this is your library.
* This one comes from my upper school principal, who always makes time to talk with our students about the importance of civil discourse. I’m a big fan.
Wherever you position yourself on the political spectrum, yesterday’s anonymous New York Times opinion piece, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” was bombshell news. I think a good deal of the shock around the essay has more to do with how it came to be published than it does with the content itself. The Times identifies the author as a “senior official in the Trump administration,” and while journalists have a long and storied history of using anonymous sources in their reporting, anonymity is rarely given to opinion writers. When you read the piece, as you no doubt have by now, you either had your worst fears about President Trump confirmed by a courageous whistleblower or you were appalled by the insolence of a disgruntled employee, too afraid to attach his or her name to the accusations. Maybe you even dismissed the source out of hand as a liar who falsified events and exaggerated access to the president. I’m not here to moderate that debate, but I do see the Times piece as a great conversation starter with students about the risks and rewards of anonymous sourcing in journalism.
When our seventh grade U.S. history teacher found out I was interested in news history, and particularly in how competing perspectives influence narrative in the news, he invited me to lend a hand with his annual John Brown research project. Every year, he asks his students to investigate the life of John Brown, culminating in his 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry and subsequent execution, and write a persuasive argument stating whether he was a martyr or a terrorist. I was thrilled to be asked to help curate resources for this project and was particularly excited to dive into old newspapers.
I’m always on the lookout for articles that will help my students practice their evaluation skills. My preference is for anything intriguing that manages to dodge politics. Even better if the article challenges advice I’ve given students regarding how to determine a source’s credibility. Newsweek’s July 20th article by Aristos Georgiou describing the controversy around recent DNA testing of the Atacama mummy does all of that and so much more.
Aww, summer. Guiltless time to watch and re-watch “Moments of Wonder with Philomena Cunk – Climate Change” and laugh to the point of tears. It aired a few years ago but it is new to me. I’m a huge fan of comedian Diane Morgan‘s work, and while not all of it is appropriate for classroom use, it occurred to me that this piece on climate change is a great addition to any media literacy toolkit.
One of the many pleasures of reading Harold Holzer’s Lincoln and the Power of the Pressis getting to know the big three New York newspaper editors who framed political debate during Lincoln’s ascent to the presidency. James Gordon Bennett, Horace Greeley, and Henry Jarvis Raymond were prominent features in Lincoln’s political landscape. Their competition, always bitter, led to innovative practices that grew the editors’ readership, influence, and profits. Lincoln spent significant energy cultivating relationships with these men, knowing they were the key to swaying public opinion and winning elections. He obsessed over their editorials and coverage. He wrote to them often, at times directly and at times through “private” letters released to competing editors. Bennett, Greeley, and Raymond were celebrities, and not for lack of self-promotion.
My seventh grade library students and I are making podcasts together. As a teacher, it’s been a practice of letting go. I’m not the worst audio producer in the room with my students, but I’m also not the best. In this project, we are all teachers and learners.
The kids have recorded incredible interviews with parents and siblings, mentors and teachers. Now they are cleaning them up using Ocenaudio (at least the ones that are following my lead; some are using Audacity or Adobe). Today I wanted to show students a nine minute clip from a longer YouTube tutorial that explains how to play with settings to improve sound quality. Having already spent 10 of our precious weekly 45 minutes giving instructions, it suddenly seemed ridiculous to spend even more class time watching the video together as I had planned. However, I knew they would eventually have to watch the video to move on with their project.
Earlier this year I wrote about asking my seventh grade students to interview family members, asking them what they thought the news was supposed to do. I described how a novice like me was able to figure out how to weave separate interviews together into an audio montage with several student and parent voices. I also predicted that if I decided to teach students how to edit and design their own podcasts, there would most likely be students in the room who could teach me a thing or two about audio production.
Rodger Streitmatter first published Mightier than the Sword: How the News Media Have Shaped American Historyin 1997. It was intended to be both a textbook for his popular undergraduate journalism course at American University and a general reader for anyone interested in exploring the news media’s influence on our democracy. In his preface to the fourth edition, published in 2016, Streitmatter attributes the book’s popularity to the readers who “enthusiastically embrace its thesis: for more than two centuries the American news media haven’t merely reported and commented on the news, but they’ve also played a significant role in shaping this country’s history” (ix).
Streitmatter delivers on defending his thesis, with examples of how the news media has both championed and failed the American people, from our country’s founding to present day. Check out the table of contents for sixteen chapters in American history that get the treatment from Streitmatter. Each stands on its own and is designed to be readable and easy to integrate into the classroom. You and your students will recognize some of these chapters – yellow journalism, muckrakers, Watergate – but some are less well known, such as the discrediting of the movement for women’s rights in the mid-nineteenth century, standing up to the Klan in the 1920s, or the role the press played in electing our first African American president.