“A Lighthouse Reflective and Protective”

Dear Colleagues,

Over break, I visited family in Denver, and the local newspaper caught my attention. The Post, under hedge fund ownership, has suffered round after round of layoffs. The Pulitzer Prize–winning enterprise is now a shell of its former self. The paper, in an act of desperation and open rebellion, attacked its owners in its lead editorial without the owner’s prior knowledge. The Post demanded that its owners sell the paper to those who will continue to support decent journalism. You can read more about the situation here.

The news industry is suffering a “gale of creative destruction,” to quote Joseph Schumpeter. I hope that the Post survives; I also know that several new and valuable sources of information are emerging. Some traditional outlets are reinventing themselves; others are entirely new, often non-profit, and discovering how to thrive in an uncertain marketplace.

Will journalism, as a profession, survive? We have reason to wonder who will continue to uphold its five ethical principles:

  1. Truth and Accuracy
  2. Independence
  3. Fairness and Impartiality
  4. Humanity
  5. Accountability

I fear that without professional standards and principles, the public will not recover its trust in journalism. Confidence has diminished for good reason. Today we live with anonymous lead editorials and with nearly 200 local news anchors reading an identical script of corporate provenance, not to mention all the misrepresented material that floats through social media.

Here at Gann, we have been exploring frames of information literacy that are relevant to this crisis of public trust, including “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” and “Information Creation as a Process.” We have been identifying useful sub-skills through these frames, and we have been developing questions that we might raise with our students to help them understand, value, and critique the nature of authority and the act of putting together an “information product.”

How do we engage students in information literacy when sometimes we ourselves do not know who or what created the material we consume? There are no easy answers, but perhaps our best strategy is the promotion of ethical practices among students as content creators themselves. I hope that they will own and exercise their unique voices, and that they will practice civil debate with each other. From that foundation, they may be more inspired to uphold and defend quality content and authorship of all sorts — even if those voices are distant from their own experiences, stances, and beliefs.

How else should we support the skills and habits of mind that our students will need to withstand the gale of creative destruction and regenerate a vibrant and (yes) cacophonous public square?

Field Notes

Mary Murphy, an associate psychology professor and mindset researcher at Indiana University, was not involved with the article but agreed with its findings, noting that students of all ages can lose trust in adults who praise them for effort without specifying what was “effective” about their effort. Murphy suggested educators can give adolescents a better foundation for a growth mindset by, among other things:

  • Providing opportunities for students to reflect on their own learning. For example, instead of using assessments primarily for the teacher, let students assess themselves regularly and report back on how they have developed.
  • HIghlight mistakes in the everyday practice of learning. “Tell students, ‘I don’t want to know what you found easy, I want to know what you got wrong because that’s where the learning will be,'” Murphy said in an email. “This naturally gets students to think about how much they are learning and developing, and will get them to think about what other strategies they could try.”
  • Use group work where peers discuss what they each struggled with and explore individual strengths of different students.

Sarah Sparks. Education Week. For Teenagers, Praising ‘Effort’ May Not Promote a Growth Mindset.

…Unlike so many other education books written 15 years ago, “An Ethic of Excellence” feels more relevant today than ever before. At a time when modern education is considering whether and how to embrace new forms of transcripts, new approaches to school architecture and schedules, new ways to integrate technology, and new place-based experiences for students, Berger’s book cuts through the noise of innovation and insists that the singular representation of a school’s purpose is — and should be — the work its students produce. Any institutional effort that doesn’t enable students to produce interesting, authentic, rigorous work is effort wasted.

Eric Hudson. Global Online Academy. It’s Time for Educators to Revisit “An Ethic of Excellence.” Here’s Why.