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“I learned so much about viewing the world, especially mass media, through a critical eye this year. I learned about what traps we fall into while viewing media and how we can prevent that. I also learned about good vs. questionable journalism tactics and how this can affect how accurate a news source is.”
My guest today, Sam Shain, is a musician, artist, writer, former journalist and current English teacher in Maine. That opening quote was just one student review of Sam’s journalism class from his book Education Revolution: Media Literacy for Political Awareness, available from Zer0 Books. Teaching in the United States has never been more fraught, as teachers across the country are implicitly or explicitly forced to avoid certain topics, texts, and questions that have been labeled divisive, controversial, or - worse yet - political. Of course, these topics also tend to be the most immediate & important, and are accompanied by intense mis- & disinformation - the reality of climate change, systemic racism, COVID-19, and the outcomes of our electoral system, to take some examples from just the last couple of years - all of this seems particularly heightened with the new ability of AI to generate audio, video, and images to spread politically motivated narratives easier than ever before via social media, and a receptive population willing not only to accept them but to participate in spreading mis- & disinformation. As the student testimonial I read earlier testifies to, the gap has never been wider between our vital need to teach critical media literacy and our ability. To do. Just that.
Sam Shain is a former journalist and English teacher. He believes education is the way out of our country's current predicament and teachers and students can lead the revolution in turning this country around. Sam wrote for the Capital Weekly for several years and occasionally contributes to the Kennebec Journal.
In addition to teaching and writing, Sam sings and plays guitar in the band the Scolded Dogs, who play frequently throughout Maine and have released several original albums. Sam lives in Hallowell, Maine.
0:00:00.0 Sam Shain: Someone would say, "Well, you know, leave that to college. Leave those discussions to college." And it's like I can't get into that because it's like for some of these kids, increasingly, this is the last time they're in a school. So why are we shielding this type of knowledge, whether it's a real knowledge of US history or media literacy? Why are we withholding that from kids who decide that they maybe don't wanna go to college or enter a trade or something? That is just so absurd to me. Kids are old enough in high school to learn this stuff, and we should be offering it to them.
0:00:39.1 Nick Covington: Hello and welcome to episode 129 of our podcast at the Human Restoration Project. My name is Nick Covington. As with all of our content, this episode is brought to you by our supporters, three of whom are Riva Ocho, Antonio Buehler, and Dylan Wince. Thank you so much for your ongoing support. You can learn more about us and our work at humanrestorationproject.org.
0:01:04.2 NC: I learned so much about viewing the world, especially mass media, through a critical eye this year. I learned about what traps we fall into while viewing media and how we can prevent that. I also learned about good versus questionable journalism tactics and how this can affect how accurate a news source is. My guest today, Sam Shain, is a musician, artist, writer, former journalist, and current English teacher in Maine. That opening quote was just one student review of Sam's journalism class from his book, Education Revolution: Media Literacy for Political Awareness, available from Zer0 Books.
0:01:41.4 NC: Teaching in the United States has never been more fraught, as teachers across the country are implicitly or explicitly forced to avoid certain topics, texts and questions that have been labeled divisive, controversial or, worse yet, political. Of course, these topics also tend to be the most immediate and important and are accompanied by intense mis- and disinformation. The reality of climate change, systemic racism, COVID-19, and the outcomes of our electoral system, to take some examples from just the last couple of years. All of this seems particularly heightened with the new ability of AI to generate audio, video and images to spread politically-motivated narratives easier than ever before via social media, in a receptive population willing not only to accept them, but to participate in spreading mis- and disinformation. As the student testimonial I read earlier testifies to, the gap has never been wider between our vital need to teach critical media literacy and our ability to do just that. I hope to bridge that gap, at least in part today, with my guest, Sam Shain. Thanks so much for joining me today.
0:02:51.0 SS: Thank you very much, happy to be here.
0:02:53.1 NC: Well, your book, Education Revolution, which we will certainly dive into here, has very personal connection to your own experiences as a high school teacher caught up in teaching politics in 2021. And you recounted that experience for us in a piece that listeners can find on our website, one that is eerily similar to my own here in Iowa. So let's begin there, if you could summarize your story for us because I think it sets an important context for the need of this book, and frankly, it's something that teachers are increasingly up against.
0:03:24.9 SS: It was one of the worst experiences of my life, in the summer of 2021. I mean, I encourage everyone to read the piece. But just in short, a few things happened in the semester, but the trouble started when I taught an admin-approved book, Rising Out of Hatred, and while I wasn't even there, I was on paternity leave. Well, I took a few days off after having a baby, as one does in America.
0:03:54.2 NC: Yeah.
0:03:56.1 SS: And I wasn't even there, and someone complained. And the snap reactionary decision was to just get rid of the book, and we were halfway done reading it, the kids were enjoying it, and they just went to get, like just ban the book entirely. And I took time, my son was a few days old when this happened, and I was like, "Well, hold on a second." I tried to fight against it. When I got back, the kids wanted to know what happened, and I told them. I said what happened, and they wanted to know what they could do, and I told them, "You know, you could try to talk administration into keeping this book around, fight for your education." They referred that to that and these made up things later that they called informal work evaluations as me, I quote, "inciting a student protest", which is just a completely dishonest way of characterizing that. There's so many insane details to that year, but that's kind of the gist of where it started for me.
0:04:57.7 NC: Well, what's fascinating about that book, I'm not sure you mentioned it, but the book, Rising Out of Hatred, is about a white nationalist, the would-be heir to the clan, Derek Black, and his journey out of white nationalism as a results of the pluralistic, multi-cultural experience that he has at a small liberal arts college in Florida.
0:05:19.5 SS: Oh, yeah, it's...
0:05:20.0 NC: So what were people complaining about in the book?
0:05:24.0 SS: The story. It is, it's dripping with irony, the whole thing.
0:05:27.2 NC: Yeah, I had to tell.
0:05:28.5 SS: Yeah. So the complaint was by one single parent who incidentally, their kid loved both my classes, but the one parent actually hauled the kid out of both classes against their will. The complaint, I guess, essentially, was they weren't happy that Eli Saslow, the writer of the book, simply mentioned that Don Black, Derek's dad, was pretty excited about Trump. They didn't like that. [chuckle] And it's like, "That's just what happened. I'm sorry that that is the fact of the matter." In a meeting with them, with both the parents, one set of which did not even complain, they didn't care about any of this, I assured them, I said, "You know, look, I am quick to point out stuff about the Democratic Party, too. When we talk about the steams to this like systemic racism and history of race in America, I am happy to point out... " I mean, I'm sad to point out, I should say, "But I'm willing to point out that Joe Biden is an architect of the Crime Bill." I have no problem saying that. The Crime Bill that incarcerated a disproportionate number of black folks, and like I'm gonna say that. I don't care about Republicans and Democrats, per se. I just wanna get the truth out to kids and give them stuff to think about.
0:06:52.1 NC: And it's not like you had put those words into Don Black's mouth. That was what Don Black had said in the book. They're mad at something that a different person said in the book that you were reading. That's the part that I think is... It's not bewildering 'cause of course, I had the same circumstance. People were upset when I taught about the Charlottesville March, the right-wing march in 2017 that happened down there. When I was teaching about that in my AP European History class in the context of nationalism and white nationalism, the parents who complained about me teaching about it were mad about what the white nationalists said about Donald Trump. [chuckle]
0:07:31.9 SS: Right. [chuckle]
0:07:33.2 NC: The parent complaint was that the content seemed to portray President Trump in a negative light. [chuckle] It's like, "That's nothing that I said. You're complaining about stuff the Nazis said. The guys on the video who said they were Nazis said that they happened to like President Trump. I didn't say anything."
0:07:49.8 SS: Right.
0:07:50.6 NC: So it's like the exact same scenario, which is absolutely wild to me.
0:07:54.3 SS: It's insane. And rather than these people ask themselves like, "Why is it that I like the same guy that Don Black and Richard Spencer and all these people do?" It's, "Let's go cancel," if I may, this is a real cancellation that happened to me. I actually, unlike these comedians that whine about cancelling, I actually lost my job with an eight-month-old son. And this woman caused me to lose my job, rather than look at herself and say, "Why is it that I am mad about this? Why is it that I support the same person that these white supremacists are excited about?" And the administration I had, it sounds like the one that you had as well would sooner side...
0:08:41.0 NC: Is that the same admin? Is that... What was going on there?
0:08:44.9 SS: I know.
0:08:45.6 NC: Yeah. I said the same thing to my principal, too. I said, "How can you not see that this is politically motivated?" And they were...
0:08:51.3 SS: Right.
0:08:52.1 NC: My admin at the time was just, "No, these are just concerned parents. They just want to do what's best for their kids." And I said, "Baloney!" Right away, red flags were going up there. And they were upset about the things that the Nazis in the video said, and as though they were attributing it to myself. [chuckle] It's just like, "Can you not see the distinction? It's not like I was advocating for those things."
0:09:13.7 SS: Right.
0:09:13.9 NC: "You know, we're trying to understand what it is that these guys are saying in their own words, and there's... We're using primary sources in the history class to learn about this topic," just like you were using Eli Saslow's book as a piece of journalism in your freshman English class. Absolutely wild to me. In the introduction to the book, in the first few pages there, you say that teaching political awareness is powerful in that it allows teachers to say, "This class is political," just in the same kind of political realities you had mentioned impacting the Democratic Party as well, as nearly everything is, you say, but most certainly not partisan. "None of my classes are partisan," you write in the book, "Because I would never preach to kids to specifically vote for a certain part of your candidate, but it is political in that we discuss politics, current events and current issues because I am trying to make my class relevant and meaningful. As somebody myself who is told that current events do not belong in history class, I wish that this distinction between being political and being partisan was more widely embraced and communicated." So I wonder why do you think it isn't, and how do you think we, or maybe how can we do a better job of just that?
0:10:26.1 SS: I'd say a lot of the book is setting out to make that argument. I am personally just so tired of this notion that there is this... All these unbiased forces in our country. Journalism is unbiased. Our court system is unbiased. Our economic system is unbiased. There's just all these myths that we tell ourselves that we have these great systems in place that just yield justified, righteous outcomes, and it's like if you look into it at all, it lays waste to these ideas. And knowing about them is going to help us, I would think, fix these things, overturn some of the nonsense that we see. Becoming more aware that like, "No, I'm sorry, but a lot of journalism, if not all journalism, is indeed biased. The court system is biased. The economic system is biased in favor of people who have a bunch of money." Why can't we just admit this? Yes, it's political, so is almost anything. You could make that charge to almost anything, I would say. Anything meaningful, anyway.
0:11:35.4 NC: What I get really concerned about, and especially back when Iowa was doing this in... Gosh! I think probably this was 2021 now. They had signed a bill that would ban so-called divisive concepts from being taught in school. And immediately, again, the red flags for me go up because it really implies a lot of power about who gets to decide what is divisive, what is controversial, what is political. To mention a current event, I just saw today that some charter school in Florida had fired a teacher or a principal, somebody had been fired over showing the Statue of David to middle school children because parents thought that that was pornographic. And it just seems like we apply these reflexive labels to, I don't know, anything that we feel is uncomfortable, anything that we... How can we deal with the realities of, again, say climate change or who won what election? Or God forbid, then, to your point about actually addressing systemic issues where we see them in the criminal justice system, where we see them in legislation, housing, the economy, without actually just recognizing that those realities are the bare, the truths at the core of the world?
0:12:56.5 SS: Just to debunk the myth of white supremacy, it's something that I think any administrator, without being pressed, "Are you... Do you believe in white supremacy?" "No, I don't." Okay, well, in order to really demolish that idea, the best way to do that is take the things that like a Derek Black would say, "Look! Look at this. Look how many black people are in jail. Look how many are in poverty. See, they really are just not as smart. They really are just not as... They're prone to violence or whatever." You take those things and say, "Well, what... This isn't true. Like we certainly don't believe that." So what is the reason? And then you go back through time and look at the disadvantage of this group of people from the start of the country. Like you said, doing that actually, instead of just saying, "Don't be racist. Don't say the N word. Don't say slurs," you're actually teaching them the substance of it, you know?
0:13:50.6 NC: Yes.
0:13:51.0 SS: And it's true, in doing so, doing it the right way, teaching the stuff the right way so people don't just become hysterical and preachy and not really know what they're talking about, if you do it the right way, then yes, you could be charged with, "Oh, you're being political." The thing that you just said about the statue or the... What was it? What was it again?
0:14:14.0 NC: The Statue of David was taught to middle school kids at a Florida charter school and somebody got fired for that.
0:14:19.3 SS: And it's like that is just like... You could take anything. You can get anyone with anything with this whole... With these loose ideas of like, "Oh, you cannot be controversial. You could just... " You could use that as a weapon against anyone. I mean, like what about, I'm just thinking here like what about the Bible itself? That has all kinds of sex and killing and all kinds of crazy things in there. Are you gonna ban that, too? It's just... It's wild, it's wild to me that we're allowing these sort of loose laws and regulations to be just there to be used as a weapon to just get rid of teachers like you and I.
0:15:01.0 NC: It does seem like it falls into that legal trap of like, "I'll know it when I see it." Like how do we know what's controversial? How do we know what is pornographic? You know, I would venture to say that the vast majority of people would not say the Statue of David is pornography.
0:15:14.5 SS: Right.
0:15:14.9 NC: It's not any different from an anatomical drawing that you would find on Wikipedia or an encyclopedia, I should say. But it really just kind of becomes in this eye of the beholder or this mob rule mentality that actually has huge legal implications about what we can teach, how we can teach it, the kinds of questions we can ask of students in there. And I think one of the concerns that I have about your context in particular with teaching, the story of Derek Black and the Rising Out of Hatred is one of the things that caused him to begin to question his white nationalist upbringing 'cause he was homeschooled as a child, was going into that diverse, pluralistic community, meeting students who had... Who were first generation immigrants, spending time with Jewish students, gay students, and both feeling the heat, but then also being embraced by some of them, and kind of having that relationship with them, and actually teaching him that his beliefs were wrong. And I worry that these laws preclude a lot of the things that would have turned Derek away. And it's kind of hard to avoid the conclusion that these laws aren't almost designed just to protect people with the attitudes like Derek had to prevent him from challenging those beliefs that had been instilled with him by his father, who you said was the founder of Stormfront, for God's sake. [chuckle]
0:16:42.0 SS: Right, yeah, it does protect those viewpoints.
0:16:48.0 NC: Yeah.
0:16:48.1 SS: And you know, it's fine to have them. When I teach the book, I try to... Any kids that say, "Well, they should have kicked Derek out of the school," which very few do.
0:17:00.2 NC: Yeah.
0:17:00.3 SS: I try to kind of... And this is, again, we deal with moral questions all the time. I would try to steer that student into saying, "Well, you know, if they kick him out, he's never gonna change, you know?" And it's like, "He's welcome to have that viewpoint, but the whole school does not need to capitulate to him and not teach the girl, Alison, his girlfriend, took a class to arm herself with the reasons that he was so wrong, like the factual reasons. And that was a big part. Yes, he was greeted with love from people, he was greeted with animosity, but he was also... Derek Black dared to logically look at himself and look at the facts and say, 'I am wrong about this,' even though his parents, he thought they might disown him." I mean, what a brave person to do that.
0:18:00.3 NC: You mentioned Alison taking that class. I think the class was called something about prejudice, so it's like addressing directly the causes and sources of our bias and our prejudice. Again, part of me wonders, under the new college kind of regime that they have now of all of these lackeys that DeSantis put into office there, whether or not that class would be allowed to be offered because it addresses, specifically, those systemic causes of bias, prejudice, inequity, and all those.
0:18:30.3 SS: And you know, just to also say this, some would say, and I ran into this when I was trying to get endorsements for my book.
0:18:40.2 NC: Oh yeah.
0:18:40.3 SS: Some would say, "Well, leave that to college, leave those discussions to college," and it's like, I can't get into that because it's like... For some of these kids, increasingly, this is the last time they're in a school, so why are we shielding this type of knowledge, whether it's a real knowledge of US history or media literacy, like why are we withholding that from kids who decide that they maybe don't wanna go to college or enter a trade or something? That is just so absurd to me, kids are old enough in high school to learn this stuff, and we should be offering it to them for the good of them and the entire country.
0:19:20.8 NC: As though they don't deserve to be forewarned and fore-armed with those things before they get to campus and have conversations with people from different backgrounds and experiences and different view points on those issues, imagine coming into that college campus entirely ignorant of the Black Lives Matter, the Civil Rights Movement of 2020 or the Derek Chauvin trial, or any of those things that are actually gonna inform the relationships and your ability to be successful inter-personally on a college campus, let alone academics, but just be able to identify with and interact with and engage with different groups and communities. You kind of become isolated and you're kind of isolated by your own ignorance, if that's the case, because you're not prepared and equipped to have those conversations in the same way that students who might come from a place where they have had those conversations before setting out into the world after high school, you know?
0:20:17.5 SS: Absolutely, absolutely.
0:20:20.7 NC: Well, let's get into the book, I think it's not typical in the sense that it's intended for a mainstream audience, but published on an imprint on Zer0 Books that generally doesn't release pedagogical content. I think this might be the only one that they have that's like, "Here's a how to teach guide," and that's what this is, it's a guide book, it's a curriculum map for how to teach critical media literacy in the scope of a traditional school year, you go month by month and semester by semester with the goals and activities and all those things, so I just wanna pick your brain a bit. What were your goals in writing this kind of book, I guess, or even for Zer0 Books, if that was your original goal, could you walk us through the ideas, the practices that guide your work as a Journalism teacher in such a fraught information environment? And we can get to this in a little bit, I don't wanna throw too much at you, but what in your mind then are those key pieces of media literacy for political awareness as the book's subtitle suggests?
0:21:20.1 SS: Okay, yeah, there's a lot there. Okay, so...
0:21:24.1 NC: There's a lot, just take a little...
0:21:24.8 SS: Okay, so first, I wrote this book, this is only my fifth year teaching, I wrote this book after only, I think my second year teaching.
0:21:38.6 NC: Big step.
0:21:40.0 SS: So I was tasked with a journalism class just because I was a journalist at a small paper for a while, and I was gonna do a thing where I was like, "Okay, I'll start a newspaper." And I got the... I got into class and I was just like, "There's a real opportunity here. There's all kinds of crazy things going around where people just don't know what the hell to believe." A big inspiration for me, not necessarily him as a person, but just the book Sapiens, just... There's this one quote where he says, "Teachers should be teaching kids how to interpret, decipher information, opposed to teaching them just more facts and more, just loading more and more things on to them," try to teach them how to sift through... Teach them how to think basically, instead of just more and more different things to put on their plate, and I realized that that is what I should be trying to do. I was already a fan of Noam Chomsky and Manufacturing Consent, I realized some of the problems with media, some of the problems with social media, and I thought, "That's what I'm gonna do with this class, I'm gonna...
0:22:52.5 SS: I'm gonna call it journalism, and it will be more of like a media literacy and critical thinking class," and my hope, and I haven't admittedly done a very good job of this, but I would love to see more people implement this, more teachers implement this. I think you could do it pretty easily as an English teacher. I do some of the activities that I talk about in the book, just in my regular English classes with critical thinking stuff, I put those right in my writing classes, you can do that, you can do that easily. You can tie them into the standards, the standards are very open-ended, not that I really care for them, but you can do it, you can absolutely tie this stuff in with the standards, have them... Give them something... All you need to do in English is just kinda give them some type of framework and then they can respond to it or think about it or use the skills you give them.
0:23:52.8 NC: That was that second question is what are those ideas and practices you're saying English teachers can go implement these things, even though the book is kind of written through that, from your experience as a Journalism teacher, but what are like those central key ideas that you're saying, "Go teach media literacy. Go teach critical thinking." What are those key themes and ideas?
0:24:13.1 SS: So I'll start the year with getting them to buy in to the whole notion of journalism, we need that sort of pillar, that sort of fourth branch almost, to hold people accountable, the powerful accountable theoretically, we need that to inform people what's going on if this democracy thing is gonna work. We want people to know what... To me, what is actually going on? We need that in a democracy, so then we kind of move in to looking at what journalism should look like, and what I was taught by the journalist that prepped me for my work as a journalist, talking about the inverted pyramid where you're supposed to talk about the main things that happen and then the details and then the nitty-gritty gets further down in the article, and there should be theoretically a bunch of people making sure that it's objective, making sure that it's factual, making sure that there's not too much opinion going on, but then we kinda start to talk about how the whole bias thing is tricky, you know, I show them an episode of The Office, [chuckle] kind of a crazy episode.
0:25:34.1 NC: That's a great activity. I love reading about this. Yeah, and walk us through that, just give the listeners a sense of that 'cause I think that's really cool.
0:25:41.6 SS: Sure. Yeah, so I show the episode. It's the one where Dwight starts a fire intentionally in The Office, and I let them...
0:25:53.7 NC: Started the fire, yeah.
0:25:53.8 SS: Yeah, I let them see that. And the other thing is that my curriculum keeps getting better, so it might be a little different as I explain it in the book, but I have the kids then put in their top detail and have them fill in the inverted pyramid for like, in what order of importance do they think this crazy event? What are the events that happened? What order of importance would you rank them in? And we realized that people kind of all do something a little bit different, and it's a great way to kinda say like someone in the Scranton, Pennsylvania newspaper, we've got to also consider, if I'm your editor here telling you to go cover the story, what if there is a huge homeless problem, what if there is some type of issue with the drinking water, why are we covering this story instead of some of these other things going on?
0:26:46.7 SS: And it's like you quickly start to realize, okay, even when we set out to have this objective thing, there are other things going on, it's not... There's maybe more that meets the eye than like, yes, the news is just giving you everything that you need to know, like no, there might be other stuff out there that you need to know, and we kinda get into the nature of bias and how you've really gotta dig into things, it's then kind of fun to see what their own biases are, and I give them a bunch of different quizzes and things like that, we look at biases, like the media bias chart, but then we talk about how the media bias chart and the quizzes themselves are also biased, they're written by regular people.
0:27:31.1 NC: You can't escape it.
0:27:31.2 SS: Yeah, you can't escape it, right? So it's like to me, that alone is you're getting them thinking, you're getting them thinking deeper than to just swallow everything that they ever hear, and I tell them, "If you're in an English or a History class, even in my own class, like, by all means, check what I'm saying, like look into other stuff, like do the thinking, don't just believe or think that what you're getting in history class is the only way of framing of looking at history. Look into all kinds of other things." So once we get that foundation, I then have three units straight up fake news, which is just like non... Stuff that is just a flat out lie. Corporate Media, which is a much trickier thing to go through, I spend a long time on that and I try to explain to them like these other countries that have a state media, I would imagine and from a little bit that I've read, it's like people kind of know this is... It's state media. I know that this is biased. Well, we have this like veneer here, like I was talking about earlier, it was like, "Oh, we're getting this great independent stuff here," and it's like, yeah, well, let's look at who owns like 90% of the media outlets in this country and it's like, no, we're really not getting that unless we kind of dare to look into some independent media, and look into some journalists who are actually on the ground, instead of just getting sort of the corporate narrative.
0:29:08.6 SS: Now, the thing is, is I don't want... The last thing I want is to have kids conflating fake news with the corporate media problem, I don't want kids to say... You know what I'm saying? I don't want them to say, "Oh look, the corporate media is saying there's a virus, they lie about everything." That's not what we're going for. Right.
0:29:35.3 NC: Right. Or into some kind of nihilism that like, oh, nobody is gonna have the truth here, how do you overcome that then? Because I bet that's a pretty... That's a convenient way to start thinking, right? 'Cause you're like, "Oh, if nothing is true or if nobody is gonna be truthful or if nobody is unbiased, then it must all be the same. They must all just be liars all the time about everything."
0:29:54.7 SS: So I end the year on a conspiracy theory unit where... And a big part of that is the difference between a conspiracy and a conspiracy theory, we look at actual conspiracies that like the government has pulled off, and with this comes, I always say Ben Burgess has a great line where he says the government can do things to you or for you. And the last thing I wanna do there is say, you can't trust the government to do anything, 'cause they did COINTELPRO back in the '60s, I don't want that either. So I make sure to have these nuances in there, but that last unit we also... That is accompanied by looking at fallacies, looking at cognitive biases, I make sure that they are using that themselves, a great thing to use for that is I show them a video of people explaining Crop Circles by assuming that it's aliens and then showing them like the fact that people can do it too, [chuckle] people can pull this off and asking them to think what's more likely most of the time, is it... Are we getting visited? Which I guess is possible, but where's the evidence or is it people doing it?
0:31:18.4 SS: Ben, The Fallacy, King Shapiro is another great tool to use, literally a tool to use for this as well, the Andrew Neil clip is a great one, and I have them actually identify these fallacies so the hope is between a robust mental mode of having these critical thinking tools and putting them into practice with a value for looking at all kinds of different sides and actual evidence. Looking at documents and studies and hard evidence. Hopefully they are able to look at any content through a skeptical eye after we've done all of this, that I've just described in a thorough manner.
0:32:02.8 NC: That says a lot too, just about the extent to which you just... At the end of the day, you also have to trust kids to put their critical faculties into play, you can only teach them so much about those tool kits, but if you don't actually let them use them by bringing in diverse ranges of sources and some at the extremities, some that are nonsense, some of those things too, and just let them flex those muscles, then you can expect them to go out on their own and do that either, so I think that just exhibits a huge amount of trust in the kids that you're teaching.
0:32:32.6 SS: Yeah, and that is the final in the class at this point is it used to be having them debunk a conspiracy theory, now I kind of give them a broad range, like you just said, of all kinds of different things, fake news, a meme that isn't true. A corporate media article that reports on what CIA sources say with completely uncritically, and it's fun to see them say, "Okay, hold on, this Havana Syndrome is only quoting a CIA of an unnamed CIA official. Maybe there's something going on here and, well, what's the evidence that this is some kind of gamery harming these agents?" And it's like... Right, exactly. Like look at what what does the article say? What are they really reporting on here, is there anything... Is there any teeth to this thing, or is it just speculation? And it went very well this year, my last semester, I had a great group of kids in that and they did so well with that, it was kind of a new way of approaching that final for me this year, and they just did an awesome job.
0:33:41.3 NC: That's a good transition into the next question, which was, I've got a quote that I wanna read over here that you quote from the book, and it's actually from the author of Sapiens, is that Yuval Noah Harari... Is that the person's name?
0:33:54.0 SS: Yeah, yeah.
0:33:55.8 NC: So you actually quote from a Wired piece that Yuval wrote, I'll quote from that too, just for listeners here too, where they say people all over the world are about a click away from the latest accounts of the Bombardment of Aleppo or of melting ice caps in the Arctic, but there are so many contradictory accounts that it's hard to know what to believe, besides, countless other things are just a click away, making it difficult to focus and when politics or science look too complicated, it's tempting to switch to funny cat videos, celebrity gossip or porn. In such a world, the last thing a teacher needs to give her pupils is more information, they already have far too much of it, instead people need the ability to make sense of the information to tell the difference between what is important and what is unimportant and above all, to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world, and what I think is interesting is that obviously the memes about Boomers are like low-hanging fruit at this point, and I think there's a lot of concern about Gen X in this regard too like I'm thinking about Ron DeSantis and Elon Musk and what's going on there.
0:34:57.0 NC: But us millennials we're of course perfect and without fault, so let's put Gen Z in that unfair... [chuckle] Let's put the generational spotlight on them for a moment. I remember hearing them referred to as the digital natives in my former practice, and the media environment that they're growing up in now is as fractured as it's ever been, so what would you say are their generational strengths that young people have when it comes to media literacy? Whether that's by virtue of it being a focus of their education or of being like bane, they're born into it, they don't know any different, so maybe they are just more skeptical, so both the strengths and then maybe what are those generational obstacles that we have to seriously address? Because the students, for whatever reason, just have blinders to that kind of thing. They just can't see it 'cause it's not part of their experience. I don't know, what's your take on that?
0:35:54.9 SS: Part of me wants to say that they're pretty good at not believing a meme or a TikTok video, like out of hand. Part of me wants to say that they're pretty good at that, they're not going to just believe something, but then I do also think... I gotta tell you, I have a lot of kids who believe initially that there's all these schools that have litter boxes for furries to go to the bathroom in, and it's like, you can't believe that just 'cause Joe Rogan said it, you know, and it's like...
0:36:32.4 NC: He was the progenitor of that, you know?
0:36:35.3 SS: He was one of them, and it's...
0:36:38.3 NC: Okay, okay.
0:36:39.0 SS: Well, I don't know, it might have been... Maybe that was the origin. But I do play that clip for my regular English class, and when we're doing a research paper and I play that clip, and even though other times they can be very savvy, sometimes they're ready to still believe something like that, and again, the goal is just to say like, "Look into this a little bit. Like look into it a little bit, don't just believe it, just because we're predisposed to say, "Oh look, this... A train wreck. Look into it before you believe it out of hand." So I think in some ways, they're pretty good at doing that most of the time, and knowing that the Internet is kind of a crazy place that's maybe not to be taken seriously all the time, but they still do fall victim to the same sort of things that anyone does except us perfect millennials, of course. [chuckle]
0:37:33.9 NC: Yeah. Exactly. We don't fall for this. We've been through too much.
0:37:41.6 SS: Yeah, for real.
0:37:41.7 NC: It is so interesting that they might have some kind of reflective skepticism just from growing up inundated by crap, just be like fake video, fake this, this is fake, fake all this. I kinda get that, and at the same time, it's kind of humanizing too, to say like, "Look, you have the same biases and predispositions and... " We fall for the same stuff, 'cause we all have these human brains as legislators who should know better, they take the litter box myth, and they bring it on to the floor of the state legislature and they enter it into the public record as evidence of whatever it is they wanna do, we are predisposed to the same things, and that could be an interesting way perhaps to even tackle it in the classroom context is like, look, these adults, college educated people who should know and do better, they fell for the same thing that you... A teenager, doesn't even have a high school degree, fell for. So I don't know, maybe there's something to be said about that too.
0:38:38.6 SS: Yeah, absolutely, and I like what you said there about maybe they are a little bit better about it in some ways, but to get to the second part of this question, they're sort of built in skepticism and the most heartbreaking moments I've had, and I talk a little bit about this at the end of the book is like, kids who do the same thing I do sometimes, I just throw my hands up and say, "What is to be done about this?" Or not even asking that question and just assuming nothing can be done about any of the number of problems that we have, these poor kids, think about what they have to see with this like... There was yet another climate report that came out. It just must be so weird to see something like that and then see no action done, you know, we have one party that will completely ignore it and the other will pay lip service to it and do nothing, and that must be so super frustrating. And that is again though, you get kids sometimes who just have no use... That I hear so much at the school that I'm at now, kids just say, "I hate politics, I don't wanna think about it," and just getting them interested in any number of issues, health care, housing, going to college and the cost of that, like...
0:40:06.0 SS: Getting them to understand these decisions that we make, that people make impact them already. It's important to start thinking about them. You know, you don't like your school lunch, guess what, we could be giving you guys way better lunches, you don't like how school is run, guess what, we could be running it a lot differently, you don't like coming to school five days or working five days a week, guess what, other countries are doing four-day work weeks, like there's other ways to do this, get them to understand, again, getting back to kind of the theme here, maybe America hasn't figured it all out, maybe our institutions are not the most perfect things in the world, giving them some... Like helping them understand that maybe there is hope just in the fact that there's other ways to do things is something I think this generation really needs because they, I think sometimes can be a very cynical bunch that just does not... They don't really care. And who could blame them when we see are these leaders that clearly don't care or they don't care about the same things normal, regular everyday people do. It must be a hell of a thing to go through as a teen.
0:41:25.9 NC: Adults have not been great models in all of that, and I don't envy a kid, a teenager who has that awareness of the wrongs and the injustices, and even just the sense of the growing inconveniences, be it through just inflation or the cost of college, and the way that they see their own lives tarnished by the choices that adults have made about how society has to be run, about how the economy should work, who benefits, who loses, and then just kind of feeling powerless as like a starting point to say, "Well, where do I even... How do I even fit into this picture? What can I a, 13, 14, whatever year old do about this, other than either fall into the existing patterns that are the easiest to facilitate with, get a car, move to the suburbs," all the things that has traditionally reinforced, "Or do I kinda set myself up for difficulty and all these things by going a non-traditional route, would I be happier in one place or the other, would I... " they face, I think, a bigger lift than they ever have before. Yeah, I definitely don't envy teenagers and the decisions that they have to make about their lives and their relationship to the world, I think we've really put them in an unfortunate position.
0:42:45.7 SS: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.
0:42:48.2 NC: Well, the book is Education, Revolution, Media Literacy for Political Awareness. The author, Sam Shain, thanks so much for joining me tonight.
0:42:57.0 SS: Thank you. I had a great time talking to you.
0:43:00.8 NC: Human Restoration Project is a non-profit dedicated to informing and spreading progressive education through free educational programs, resources and online materials for teachers, families and students, you can learn more and follow us at humanrestorationproject.org or on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Post @HumResPro.