Pitts: We Must Teach Children Critical Thinking and Media Literacy to Survive | comment
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Martin Luther King
Dr. King didn’t know half.
Those words come from 1963, after all, when the idea of US citizens and lawmakers attacking their own democracy would have been unthinkable, disregarding precautionary measures in an unimaginably deadly pandemic and ignoring an unimaginable threat to our planet. Of course, the information came through some reliable channels back then: Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, the local paper.
There was no social media. The production and dissemination of information was not yet everyone’s business.
Things have changed. The unthinkable, inconceivable and unimaginable are difficult for us. We are facing not just one but three simultaneous existential emergencies, and while each is different, it is time we understood that, in the end, they are not different threats, but rather different manifestations of the same threat.
That means that the insurgency crisis, the COVID-19 crisis and the climate change crisis are basically just facets of a misinformation crisis.
When you consider how believing in ridiculously false information generated through social media – e.g. B. Donald Trump won, vaccines magnetize the skin, cold spells refute global warming – our response to these and other problems has hindered, if not paralyzed, the truth of which is becoming clear.
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Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley are long dead, and many local newspapers are just a shadow of their own. Social media purports to fill the void and, as a direct result, misinformation has reached critical levels.
It’s not that nobody saw this coming. Warnings go back at least two decades, including in this area. But the threat seemed so theoretical. Who would have thought it would have such a real and profound impact? Who would have thought that it would split this country – this planet – like an ax and so resolutely split off the informed from the proudly misinformed, the supporters of crazy theories and screw-beliefs that would have been laughed at from the public stage in 1963, but in 2021, Finding strength in numbers and online validation? And that now turns out to be a clear and present danger.
Just last week, for example, a United Nations body issued a report warning that climate change has brought us to the point of disaster: “Code Red for Humanity”. It’s a truth underscored by our own eyes, through the centennial events that happen every year now: devastating floods, scorching heat, raging fires, raging storms. The damage, we are told, is irreversible. We can only soften it.
You’d think such a dire prognosis would agree on the need for immediate action, but Fox News saw little cause for concern and got climate denier Marc Morano to reassure viewers that the UN only wants to take their cars. “You will be cheated,” he said, “if you fall for this UN report.”
And so it goes.
The need to educate our children well – especially media literacy and critical thinking – has never been more urgent. Indeed, it is not too much to call it a question of survival. After all, the insurgency crisis threatens our country, the COVID crisis threatens our health and the climate crisis threatens the only planet we have. But the misinformation crisis has either caused or exacerbated them all.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.