Friday, April 21, 2017

High Stakes Testing and the Human Heart

I loathe high-stakes testing. 

I really do.  

As an educator, I loathe it because it takes away from instruction time.  It is used to judge teachers, even though the test often doesn't really show how a teacher does or what a student has learned in class. It is used to judge students, even though there are far better ways to assess student ability, achievement, and progress. 

As a citizen, I loathe it as a waste of money. Testing companies and publishing empires (cough *Pearson* cough) are making millions of dollars off of a run-schools-like-businesses model that is harmful and foolish. Once for-profit corporations are involved, nothing is objective, nothing can be trusted in the same way.  

But as a human, a mom, a person with a heart, I despise high-stakes testing. 

Have you ever seen a child cry because they were given a math problem that they have never even seen before?
I have. 

Have you seen a child's spirit broken because they feel like they should know how to do a question that is beyond their ability simply because it is on their test that is based on grade level, not ability level? 
I have. 

Have you seen a child totally overwhelmed by a question that is needlessly complicated or wordy?
I have.

Have you seen a child fumble through a test because they have difficulty operating a mouse or mouse pad or some other technological device that has nothing to do with reading or math ability?
I have. 

Have you seen a student question themselves, their intelligence, their ability, their future, because of a test question that they have been told is crucial to their education but is really not?
I have.

Have you ever seen a child burst into tears because they didn't understand part A of a math problem so they, by default, couldn't do part B (graph part A) or part C (explain your answer), leading one mistake to feel like three, a cascade of failure?
I have.

Why do we do this to our children? 

The answer is because we don't trust teachers. 

Children's teachers know how they are doing. They know who understands and who doesn't. They teach, assess, reteach, reassess all year long.  

That should be enough. 

But it isn't. 

So, instead, we are harming our kids, taking away instructional time, adding needless worry and stress, and crushing fragile self-confidence. And for what? 

A test that does one of the following: 
A) Gives results nobody cares about
B) Gives results that are useless or invalid
C) Gives corporations data that they can use to gain greater influence in the money pool of education while not enhancing education at all. 
D) All of the above. And more. None of it good or valuable. 

The answer, of course, is D. 

A heartbreaking, soul-sucking D.  And it should infuriate everyone. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Silence and Cowardice

I am a coward. 

It has been a rather difficult couple of months, with a lot going on for me at work.  Not difficult in terms of library stuff, but in terms of knowing how to handle impossible situations.  My technique for dealing with them has been to vacillate between quiet avoidance and quiet outrage, always tinged with a note of fear. Notice the theme of quiet.   

I have written about it, then squirreled my thoughts away, not wanting to rock any boats nor attract any attention. 

Like I said: I am a coward. 

Then, through the natural way of things, I picked up the book All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan
Kiely. And I was hit squarely between the eyes with the realization that I am a coward. My silence is cowardice.  I don't want to spoil an absolutely amazing book, but there is a theme of action vs. quietly sitting aside, and it kept confronting me. Again and again. 

My silence is cowardice. 

So, with that in mind, I am going to publish here what I wrote.  I am not going to edit it except to make it current and accurate, and also to add pictures.  


My office door is covered in stickers, signs, and photos of things are important to me as a person, as an educator. Some are funny (a comic about a boy getting his first dog and needing to name it wisely because that name would serve as a password reminder for the rest of the boy’s life). Some are motivational (A “She persisted” sticker).  Some are nerdy humor (a funny punctuation joke about the Oxford comma) (I actually have two of those). Some are educational (A printout of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s statement on what Feminism is and why it is important) Some are promotional: the covers of books I am reading or have read so students know.

And some are statements of who I am, what I stand for, and what students can expect from me.  I have a rainbow ally logo, so that student know that the library is a safe place for LGBT students, I will protect them, and I will not tolerate slurs or hate speech.

I also have a Black Lives Matter logo up, again, so students know that the library is a safe place for minority students, I will protect them, and I will not tolerate hate speech or slurs.

I have had the BLM sticker up all year. Then, on Tuesday, February 7, I noticed that someone had vandalized my door.  They had taken down my BLM logo, physically cut out the word “black”, written “white” on my door in permanent marker, then hung the sign back up so it said, “white lives matter.”  

I was really upset about it.  Upset that someone had vandalized school property.  Upset that someone had thought it was OK to cut out the word black.  Dismayed that whoever did it didn't come to me to talk about what is on my door and instead thought this was an appropriate way to handle it.

The next day I replaced the Black Lives Matter logo.

Since that time, in addition to continued vandalism and theft, I know there has been a lot of discussion about my door, about Black Lives Matter.  

One comment I often hear is, “What about white lives? Do they matter?” Of course they do.  

When someone wears a pink ribbon in support of breast cancer patients and research, nobody follows them around shouting “All cancers matter!” The pink ribbon doesn’t mean they think other cancers don’t matter or that we should fund breast cancer research more than any other.  They are just bringing attention to an issue that is important to them--breast cancer research--and making sure it isn’t overlooked, as it was historically.

When the constitution was written, white lives mattered. Slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person. Constitutionally. Black people could be owned, bought, and sold.  Black lives irrefutably did not matter, on a systemic national level.

When the 13th, 14th, 15th amendments were passed, white lives mattered. But Jim Crow legislation passed, and black people were prevented from voting.  Black students had separate schoolhouses, black Americans had separate water fountains and entrances to buildings. Colleges and clubs and businesses could reject black people.  Black lives irrefutably on a national scale did not matter.

In 1954, white lives mattered.  But it took a supreme court ruling in Brown v. BoE to desegregate schools, and even enforcing that required the National Guard. Educationally, black lives didn’t matter.

In 1986, white lives mattered, but it took a supreme court case (Batson v. Kentucky) to say that prosecutors could not use peremptory challenges to dismiss jurors based on their race. That was in 1986. In my lifetime, people were getting kicked off juries based solely on race. At that time, in my lifetime, black lives didn’t matter equally to white lives.

In February of this year (2/22), the supreme court ruled that a black death row inmate in Texas could have a new trial because his own lawyers had stated at his trial that he was more likely to be dangerous because he is black. Chief Justice Roberts stated, "Our holding on prejudice makes clear that Buck may have been sentenced to death in part because of his race.”  That was just last week. At least in part, in the justice system, black lives do not universally matter.

Black lives have not always mattered. That is irrefutable and supported by centuries of evidence. That is not my opinion. It is measurable fact supported by data. Lots of data. So, it is important to me that students, all students, know that, to me, black lives do matter.

Now, this doesn’t mean white people don’t suffer.  They certainly do.  White people experience poverty and unemployment and difficulties in life.  But institutionally, universally, systemically, white lives have always mattered in a way that black lives either did not at all or did not to the same extent as white lives.  That is not my opinion.  That is objective, measurable fact supported by data and history.

I have heard that some are upset because they say that BLM is a terrorist organization.  This is untrue. If you go to the BLM homepage under their Guiding Principles here are a few:

  • Diversity: We are committed to acknowledging, respecting and celebrating difference(s) and commonalities.
  • Restorative Justice: We are committed to collectively, lovingly and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension all people….
  • Loving engagement: We are committed to embodying and practicing justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another.

These are not the principles of a terrorist organization.

Do people come to BLM rallies and do things other than this?  Sure.  But that is not what the organization stands for.  There is so much tension in the country today, virtually every rally of any sort attracts people who are intent simply upon causing unrest and destruction.  But that is not what the Black Lives Matter organization stands for.  

Have individual members said things that were hateful or egregious? Sure.  But that is an individual member, not the organization.

I appreciate when people do not judge me, as a Christian, based on some extremist who blew up an abortion clinic. That extremist doesn’t speak for all Christians or for Christianity, just as rogue BLM members do not speak for the BLM organization.  

So, I have a Black Lives Matter logo on my door to let students--all students--know that to me, black lives matter. I will support them.  I will protect them.  They matter.

My students matter to me.  Deeply. All of them.  And I recognize, as any teacher does, that sometimes, for some students, you have to go out of your way to let them know they matter. There are some students who are lonely, have been excluded, have been abused, have few friends, or who are suffering from some situation.  Educators go out of our way to let those students know that we understand, we care, we are here to support them. For me, in a high school setting, that includes adding to my door signs of support for students and student populations.  Because they matter.

When the vandalism first happened, I put the BLM logo back up, then added another that said “Check privilege here,” although I left the graffiti visible, so it appears to say “check white privilege here.” This is a reference to the landmark 1989 article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh.

This article talks about ways in which people who are not minorities may benefit without even trying. These benefits come because of the systems in this country, the centuries old systems that have, as I mentioned before, always valued white lives, but not always valued other lives.  The article includes a list of 50 questions the author asked herself about her daily life and brings attention to things she never has to deal with or even think about, simply because she is white. Years ago, when I first read the article I was struck by all the things that I had never thought of before,  the ways my life has silently been shaped by race.  

  • I have never been pulled over just for being white.  
  • I have never been called a “credit to my race.”
  • I don’t have to worry about my race working against me when I get a mortgage (though that is well-documented for members of minorities).
  • It is not difficult to find my race portrayed well on TV or movies or in books.  
  • Nobody ever asks me to speak on behalf of my race. “How do you feel about this as a white librarian?”  
  • I can be pretty sure that when I am in a business, school, or restaurant, if I ask to speak to the person in charge, that person will be the same race as me.

This doesn’t mean I or anyone else should apologize for being white.  This doesn’t mean I or anyone else should be ashamed of being white. This doesn’t  mean I haven’t had hardships. This doesn’t diminish my own hard work or achievements or those of any other white person.  

White privilege isn’t my fault or the fault of any other white person. It is just the way the system works. And I benefit from it. I benefit from it in a way that many other people don’t. And I want to be aware of these factors, these inequalities.

This doesn’t mean my life is easy or the life of any other white person is easy.  Of course, many many white people suffer from terrible circumstances and horrible problems.  But they typically don’t suffer from things because they are white.  

That is white privilege.

Since the original incident, my door (which is school property) and my personal property have been vandalized or stolen 7 times (2/7, 2/9, 2/15, 2/16, 2/22, 2/24, 2/24) Late last week, my door was again vandalized. After putting the stickers back up, again, I sat in my office and briefly thought of how easy it would be to just walk away.  How easy it would be to just leave the signs down and leave the conversation on race be.   And I was struck by the fact that this is the perfect example of my enveloping myself in white privilege.  I have the choice to walk away from a discussion on race. I, as a white person, can say, “You know what, I don’t want to deal with the issue of race today,” and that will happen.  A black or Hispanic person can’t say, “You know what, today I don’t want race to be an issue in my life.”  

So I hung the stickers back up, including the one referencing privilege. And I did that because someone thought is was completely appropriate to destroy someone else’s property and vandalize school property in order to remove the word “black” and replace it with white. Then that person thought it was completely appropriate to steal items they disagreed with from my door.  

I eventually had to put both images on the inside of my office window because the student continued to vandalize and steal my property, even saying that no matter the consequence the actions would continue.

As long as these are the actions anyone thinks is appropriate, then there is still a discussion that needs to be had. And I don’t want to shy away from difficult discussions.  I want to engage in them: ask, talk, listen, think, and grow.  These are the very conversations we need to be having, and I hope that they are ones that we can have with respect and dignity.

Monday, January 9, 2017


I love physical books. I love the feel of the page, the heft of the book. I love to run my fingers over the dust jacket and feel the bumps and divots. I love physical books. 

And, I am not proud of it but there was a time when I was only a fan of physical books.  I was, I am ashamed to admit, very anti-ebook.  

The reasons aren't hard to imagine. 

Tech can be threatening, especially when it is a rival for something that is beloved.  I think it was probably overwhelming and scary to imagine something digital taking over something so fundamental, beautiful, and tangible as physical books.  

Looking back, I now know this was an overreaction, absurd and alarmist, but it came from a good place. 

Ebooks are not a threat to physical books.  Will they be one day?  Maybe, but I don't see it really.  And that is due in large part tot he fact that the ebooks people can't get their ducks in a row. 

There are too many devices.
There are too many formats. 
Copyright regulations are too outdated. 
The idea of leasing vs. buying is a pox that they can't seem to grasp. 
Highly illustrated books don't translate well. 
Ebooks just can't compete in an all-out scorched earth competition. 

That being said, I really love ebooks.

Full disclosure: We are a Kindle family.  Every member of my family has one and uses it regularly. The PaperWhite is incomparable tech, Kindle customer service is top of the line, and for all of Amazon's ills, they have got it figured out in terms of ease of purchase, ease of use, and ease of sharing amongst family/account members. 

Adding to the Kindle's dominance is the fact that they now own OverDrive, and while the audiobook part of OverDrive has been a glitchy mess lately, the ebook checkout's working with a Kindle is seamless and robust.  

So what happened?  How did I go from someone who swore I would never own an e-reader to such a fan? 

One word: Access. 

My disgust with ebooks was visceral, as a defense of the physical book, and it clouded my perception of the true beauty of the ebook. 

Readers with vision concerns can really be served with an ebook.  Most libraries can't afford to keep a large print section that parallels the main collection.  I know my district doesn't spend anything at all on large print.  So if a reader needs it, we have to search for a book on ILL. 

But with an ebook,  the ability to change the size of the font is instantaneous and highly customizable.  It makes reading possible for those with low vision in a way a physical book never could. 

You can even change to contrast to white print on black background.  

The access this provides for readers with vision concerns is unparalleled, and it is an important factor.

For many readers with dyslexia, books are a daunting hurdle.  However, thanks to the Dyslexie font that comes standard on most e-readers, books are far more accessible.  With a click of a button, a reader can switch from Times New Roman to Dyslexie, and I have personally witnessed more than one reader immediately report being able to read better with this change alone.  

With most public libraries (and some school libraries) having access to OverDrive or another digital book platform,  the ability to check out and download books 24/7 is now available to anyone with a stable internet connection. 

I have had a child who needed a book after the library had closed.  I was able to go into OverDrive, find the book, check it out, send it to the device, and have my child reading in under 5 minutes without ever having to leave my house.  

When traveling, whether it is to the store or around the world, there is no way to compare carrying an e-reader (whether a dedicated device or an app on a phone or tablet) to carrying a physical book.  This makes ease of access simply better.  For those with limited mobility or those with limited room in their luggage, ebooks can solve a problem for a lot of people.

So then where's the love?  I am forever getting cartoons shared with me that are pro-physical book/anti-ebook, and while I do chuckle,  I never re-share them. I never argue or berate people, but it is my show of solidarity with ebooks and the access they provide. 

I can see how those who love physical books still feel threatened by ebooks or, at a minimum, don't personally love them.  That's understandable. Nobody has to love ebooks. 

But nobody shoulddisparagee them either.

I always tell my children, "Whatever floats your boat and doesn't sink someone else's." And, for me, this is an issue of sinking someone else's boat.  If a reader needs larger font, a dyslexic compatible font, or ease of access in general, ebooks are often right on the money.  And as a person who is passionate about access, in all its forms, this is an issue that strikes close to my heart. 

It is hard for me to admit when I am wrong, but on ebooks, as a hater, I was dead wrong.  

And that in no was diminishes my love of a physical book. Unfortunately, it also doesn't mean that in my small library I am spending money on ebooks. It just isn't a wise use of resources.  But I do look for ways to get my students access (often through a partnership with the public library) and encouraging them to try the format.

This situation is one of equality, access and fairness. 

In the battle of physical vs. ebook, it doesn't have to be either/or.  Both/and works quite well.  

Thursday, December 1, 2016

My helper

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This post brought to you by Penelope, the Hedgehog.  (I was making sure she was awake, friendly, and active for a classroom visit when she climbed up on my keyboard.) 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Let's Talk Turkey

Not long ago I was reading through some Facebook posts and came across a crafty video about making a turkey out of an old book.  Hot glue, cutting, folding, rolling, voila! Centerpiece!

It is a cute idea and a really cute turkey. 

Then you get to the comments.  

I know, I know. Never read the comments. I really did quite by accident, but either way, I read them.  

And boy howdy!  People were becoming unhinged.  


Because this project involved the destruction of a book. 

I will be the first to admit that I love books.  I mean, I really love them.  The look of them. The smell of a new book. The feel of the edges of the pages. (I especially love a book with deckle edges.)  Or some of the newer publishings that have color on the edges of the page. I love looking at the binding, seeing if the book is glued or sewn. 

I also love well-loved books.  I am the person who will write in the margins of a book.  It helps me, especially if I am ever planning to reread. (And not just books I teach from; my copy of Blue Like Jazz is positively filled with notes.)  


Books are things.  Special things. Wonderful things. But things, nonetheless.  And physical things have a useful life span.  They are created, they are used, and then, essentially, they reach the end of that useful life.  

We try to preserve things that are rare or personal or done by hand, but generally speaking, books, like other things, can reach the end of their lifespan. 

And that is not bad. Or evil. Or wrong.  It is just life. 

When people are nervous about the idea of pulling old books from the library, I try to gently remind them that we are not the Library of Congress.  Our mission isn't to house every book. Nor is it to forever keep every book we ever get. 

We don't have that kind of space, and every old, worn-out, mouldering book on the shelf is taking the space that could be housing a book that a student really wants.  

If a book hasn't been checked out since 1968 (I came across one of those a few weeks ago), it probably needs to go.  If a book is incorrect or outdated or in poor repair, it just needs to go. 

And that is OK.  

And if that is the case, what better usage than living on as a cool, decorative turkey? 

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Long Ago Hurt and a Present Healing

It can be easy to say that what's in the past is in the past, but it never really is.  We all drag around our pasts with us, a bag of burdens that inform, mold, and influence us.  For good or ill. 

But it is a lot easier to pretend past sins don't exist, past errors and flaws are gone. Until they aren't. 

Last week, Representative John Lewis won the National Book Award for Young People with his powerful graphic novel March: Book Three. This book is not
only the true story of the civil rights movement, told by Representative John Lewis, chronicling the Freedom Summer murders, the 1964 Democratic National Convention, and the bombing of the 16th street Baptist Church. It is made in a format that is accessible to everyone. It is deeply moving and a powerful show of what people can do when they are mobilized for change. 

It is an amazing book, and Rep. Lewis is an amazing man.  

Just when you think this is the feel-good story of the year,  he gives his acceptance speech. 

Here are his words:
“I remember in 1956 when I was 16 years old, with some of my brothers and sisters and cousins, going down to the public library and trying to get library cards. We were told that libraries were for ‘whites only’ and not for ‘coloreds.’ To come here and receive this award, this honor, is too much.”

This kills me. It hurts my heart in a way that feels too sharp, too raw. 

The thought of the journey, those two points on a timeline.  To be that young man, kept out of the library because of race.  Then, fast forward, to receiving the National Book Award for a text dealing with that exact struggle. 

But there is no fast forward.  This is Rep. Lewis's life, lived and led. 

And these are the sins of the nation. 

Libraries are, at this point, some of the most progressive institutions in America.  They safeguard access to materials, stand up for intellectual freedom, protect the rights of the marginalized.  

But it has not always been that way, as Rep. Lewis and millions of others can attest. 

And it is up to each and every one of us to assure that this national tragedy is never repeated. 

The hardest part of this is to look in the mirror. 

I would never ever refuse service to anyone. Ever. 

But have I, in smaller ways, done the same? 

Have I ever not purchased a book because of controversial subject matter? I am sure I probably have. 

Have I ever shied away from a difficult discussion because I found it personally painful, even though it was morally right? Definitely. 

Have I been the best, most vocal advocate for the marginalized?  Doubtful.

My place in the library and in the school is to be the one who safeguards access.  While restrictions might not be as overt as those that kept Rep. Lewis out of the library 50 years ago, they can be just as effective and sinister. 

Which means I need to look at myself, and the ways I try to ensure that the library is fair, free of bias, open, and accessible.  It means I need to be purposeful in noticing those minute ways that people and subjects are kept out or hidden. 

But let's be honest here.  It isn't always the big things.  Sometimes it is the kid who has a fine and can't pay it. Or the kid who has lost a book and is terrified. Or the ones who have been made to feel uncomfortable in libraries in the past. 

Library anxiety is a real thing.  It can keep people from being where they need to be, where they have a right to be. 

What about hours of operation?  I have the luxury of being open during the entire school day.  What about schools that have so restricted staff that the hours don't accommodate students?  What about kids who might need the library before or after school? Or at lunch?  How can I make the library accessible, so accessible that no one is ever turned away?

Rep. Lewis's story is, in the end, a victorious one, but also an indictment, and one that can't be ignored.  

Monday, October 31, 2016

Truth, Reality, and the News: Training a Critical Eye

I love The Onion.  I really do.  It scratches the itch that sits firmly at the intersection of my need for intelligent commentary and craving for satire.  From the gang violence between academics who use APA and MLA citation styles to the new requirement that welfare recipients provide sweat samples to show how hard they are working, The Onion provides skillfully crafted commentary on our world, society, and those aspects of humanity that define us, occasionally uplifting but typically through shame. 

While The Onion is great fun, it isn't news. Heck, its tagline is "A farcical newspaper featuring world, national and community news." It is satire. It is farce. It is hilarious.  And it is not news. It is fake.  Everybody knows that, right?  

Well, no, everybody doesn't know that.  News organizations don't even seem to know that, since they are so readily fooled by it and cite the Onion as a source. And it isn't just international news organizations; politicians in the US seem to be unaware of what The Onion actually is. 

I guess it is no surprise, then, that the average American is so easily fooled by it. And it isn't just The Onion.
There are a whole host of satirical news sites. Some proudly wear their absurdity on their sleeves like The Weekly World News (Batboy lives!!! Their favicon is even a picture of Batboy), but at the same time sprinkle in believable headlines. Today's slide show on their homepage rotates between Megyn Kelly leaving Fox News and Saturn being a large UFO. 10/31/2016
While most people wouldn't even consider the latter, an awfully large section of the population wouldn't think twice about the former.  

And that is in no small part due to the mixture of reality and fiction. Kelly has been reportedly looking elsewhere.  But she hasn't left yet, and that makes the news story fake. 10/31/2016

But people still share it.  And they share it with a level of faith in the validity that is strong.  

In the last week alone, news organizations around the world have written about the problem of people reading (or, more often, not reading) fake news and sharing or re-tweeting it, with a signal boost that gives it a wider range and a greater likelihood of catching another unsuspecting reader unawares.  CNN, The Guardian,  The Daily Beast (Newsweek's digital home), all talking about how people are tricked by spoof news sites. 

And let's be honest here.  This is only talking about satire news sites. What about satirical sites within reputable ones?  Things like The Borowitz Report (100% fake) as a legitimate column within The New Yorker (entirely legitimate news source).  

Who cares though?  It is all good fun! 

No, actually, it isn't. 

According to the Pew Research Center, "Twenty years ago, only 12% of U.S. adults got news online. Today, that number stands at 81%. About six-in-ten (62%) get news through social media – a figure that rises to 84% for 18- to 29-year-olds. We have also reached a point where a large majority of the public (72%) gets news on a mobile device." Source

If people so readily believe news that is 100% fake (and tells you that right upfront), how much more do they fall for news that is a mixture of truth, reality, spin, bias, and hyperbole?

What about heavily biased or extreme right and left-wing news sites like The Drudge Report or, even though they make no pretense at hiding their slant (and, in fact, celebrate it)? These sites make no apologies about putting a spin to news. 

Or bloggers who present their views, bias and all? Alex Jones of Infowars is a blogger, radio host, and conspiracy theorist who, according to Quantcast, reaches over 7 million listeners a month.  he dances between outright conspiracy theory (the US was behind 9-11 and faked the moon landing) and "news" stories purporting to reveal the truth the government hides. Michael Moore is an award-winning documentary maker and news shaper. He has 3.2 million followers on Twitter and refers to his own pieces on his website as "letters", though they give the look and feel of news. 

Neither hides his bias.  Both are upfront about who they support, who they oppose.  And neither are impartial news sources. 

But readers see the stories, tweets, blog posts, and letters from all of these sites, people, agencies, and more, and readily believe that there has been a background check or the vetting of information.

When people rarely read beyond the first paragraph of a story, it is so much easier to spread misinformation. 

But why should I care?  Why should anyone care? 

As a librarian, I strive to encourage literacy, and being able to detect spoof, satire, and misinformation is a big part of digital literacy. 

If one need only use a serif font and put leaves around some well-worded headlines in order to trick people, then that is not literacy. 

Being able to recognize some letters or symbols is not literacy.  To be literate, one must understand , and a part of truly understanding is knowing when something is real, when it is factual, when it is presented without bias, and when it is not. 

The problem, I think, and I include myself at times in this indictment, is that this can take a lot of work.  Not always. Sometimes it is obvious. Or should be.  The now-famous meme about dividing 360 million dollars among the people of America created online debates so fierce that the UK Daily Mail reported on it. Solving that didn't even need research. Just a calculator.

But there is an entirely different level of story that needs to be run through Snopes, an award winning, highly respected site that debunks rumors and false news stories. 

Often, it is just a question of doing one's due diligence.  

  • Read the story. (I know. We are all busy and tl;dr is an easy way out, but at least read more than the first paragraph.) 
  • Look at the source.  
  • What is cited? 
  • Who is cited? 
  • What is the date or the story? 
  • Can you find the same info at any other site?
And all of that takes work, but it is part of being informed. It is part of literacy. It is a part of knowing that the information you are getting is true, accurate, unbiased. And if it isn't, at least being aware of the bias, and countering it.

This isn't explicitly about politics, but that does seem to be the field on which the battle for accurate information is most regularly fought these days. I am not so foolish as to think that it will all go away on November 9th.  Honestly, it is something that has been building for years, with the rise of social media and the increased use of non-traditional sources of news including The Colbert Report, The Rush Limbaugh Show,  The Daily Show, Brietbart, and Last Week Tonight.  

I fully recognize that as a Gen X, it is tricky to look at the way Millennials and Gen Z get their news with a critical eye without being purely critical.  Millennials, as a group, are highly informed. They are critical of news sources,and they are exposed to politics in their Facebook and Twitter feeds at a higher rate than Gen X or Baby Boomers.  

So this isn't a generational thing. It seems that it is societal.  At the risk of turning the nation into a monolith, generally, people are in a hurry. They digest news quickly and move on (tl;dr). And that creates a prime breeding ground for misinformation. 

For many people, and I include myself in this, there are times that a news item is what we want to believe.  We want  it to be true. In those cases, it doesn't take much convincing. 

And in those cases we must be ever more diligent. 
To check sources. 
Look for citations. 
Demand verification.
Ask the hard questions.

Because being a well-informed, literate digital citizen is more than just consuming information.  

It is knowing what information to spit out.