Conversations in My Classroom: Truth, Listening, and Understanding

All, Reflections

I teach a lot of general education classes and so I always like to begin my semester exploring the question: Why Are We Here? The conversations and musings that result from our exploration of this question build a great foundation for our work with critical thinking and ethics. I always stress to my students that I want them to succeed in school, work, and life – that critical thinking and ethics are essential to their future as both professionals and humans.

However, one of the readings I often use from This I Believe (a text we use with First Year Seminar that I now employ across all my gen ed classes) really struck a chord with me and my students. I offer up a list of options that touch on variations of the education theme (intelligence, creativity, reading) but students were drawn to Errol Morris’s “There Is Such a Thing as Truth.”

Our conversation reminded me of this great Stephen Covey quote:

“most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating.

Which then led us naturally to a discussion about the perils of fake news and cognitive bias. This was not where I intended the conversation to go as we were actually supposed to begin the work of our literacy narratives, but I was OK with that as this was the ultimate teachable moment and important ideas for us to explore. Upon reflection, as I prepare for today’s lesson, I think we did not stray off course. I think truth might be the ultimate literacy skill and if my students spend the next few weeks exploring this idea through their work and the words of others then I think it will be time well spent. I believe both my students and the world will be the better for this exploration.

Do you talk about truth with your students? How will your students know truth when they see it? How do we teach students to handle the tsunami of fake news and to overcome their own cognitive bias?

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