It seems we’re no longer in the Information Age. Welcome to the Age of Misinformation — where people have their own “facts” and whatever they “believe” must be true. Where the only truth is the fiction that wins in the end, by whatever means necessary to reach that end. Language is just a tool to “sell” your truth, regardless of whether it’s real. It’s real if it wins. Truth is winning, even if you have to cheat to get there.
In the Misinformation Age, it’s OK to mislead and distort as long as your version of the truth wins.
All of this makes it difficult to edit the Viewpoints section. I was a champion of free speech when I took over Viewpoints 20-plus years ago. I wanted everyone to have their say and erred on the side of inclusion. These days I’m a champion of responsible speech. But “responsible” is hard to pin down. I can’t prove or disprove every “fact,” no matter how distorted it sounds. If I had all the time in the world and an army of fact-checkers, it might be different, but I don’t. As it is, we’re lucky to get our four newspapers out each week with a bare-bones staff.
I could leave it to the readers to police the opinions themselves for lies, distortions and factual errors. In a perfect world, that’s how it would work. Truth is what survives in the marketplace of ideas, right? But falsehoods and other irresponsible speech cause real harm, even if they’re quickly debunked. As the famous Mark Twain saying goes, “A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots.”
Misinformation is an epidemic. Trump showed how tenuous our hold on “reality” is and taught a lot of Americans that it’s OK to mislead and deceive. Truth is for suckers.
Here at Wednesday Journal (Growing Community Media), we do not want to become a vehicle for misinforming on issues like vaccinations, where misinformation is not only rampant, but deadly.
That applies to racism and inequality also. I don’t want our pages to promote and perpetuate the American system of white superiority, deeply ingrained white privilege, and our various endemic phobias. I don’t want to censor, but I’m more cautious and selective nowadays, even though it’s hard to know where to draw the lines.
I mention all this because an important vote is coming up at OPRF High School on Oct. 28 for the proposed change to the freshman curriculum, which focuses on educational equity, making it a single-tier system. Those who oppose the change, of course, won’t say that what they’re actually doing is protecting white privilege because that doesn’t sound very enlightened.
The unspoken subtext, however, beneath the careful concealment goes something like this:
I don’t want my kid penalized by efforts to achieve equity at OPRF. They’re only here for four years and I want them to get into a top level, selective college. It’s not our fault that mostly white kids are in the honors program. Black kids are less academically motivated, partly because of peer pressure and partly because education isn’t a high priority at home. Efforts to change the academic environment at school won’t work until all the out-of-school issues are addressed.
If all kids start at the same level in freshman year, they’ll have to dumb down the curriculum, and my kid will regress, no matter what they say about making the new freshman curriculum “more rigorous.” Black kids are more unruly, so the teacher will spend too much time keeping order and not enough time teaching. And those kids probably aren’t smart enough for honors courses anyway. I’m not opposed to minority kids making progress, but that’s up to them, not us, and I don’t want my kid to pay a price for their progress.
I’ve heard various versions of this over the past 30 years.
So many things wrong with it, of course — racial stereotypes and erroneous, hurtful assumptions, not to mention a deeply troubling comfort level with inequality and defending a harmful status quo. No wonder they disguise their real position in so-called “logic” and “facts.” They’ve done “research” and found that this has been tried elsewhere, but it failed miserably. Besides, they say, OPRF must guarantee a program will work before we consent to try something new — which overlooks the inconvenient “fact” that you can’t prove something will work when it hasn’t been tried. And even if something similar was implemented elsewhere, the comparison is inevitably faulty because the circumstances are always different. Besides, we can always learn from other schools’ successes and failures.
The “fact” is, the only way to see if equity really works is to try it. If there are problems, fix them. Innovate. If there’s one thing Steve James’ 2018 documentary series America to Me showed, it’s that students of color are capable of handling a more challenging curriculum. The series also exploded the myth that families of Black students don’t care enough about their kids’ education.
The bottom line is: If, as an institution, you claim to be committed to educational equity for all students, sooner or later you have to actually do something about it.
I believe kids will rise to teachers’ expectations.
I believe teachers will rise to the community’s expectations.
I believe our means must rise to meet a more elevated end.
Just because I believe all this, of course, doesn’t make it “true.” But we’ll only make it true by doing it.
The question must be asked: Do we really believe in educational equity, or do we believe that students of color, as a group, are inferior and nothing will ever change that?
The proposed new freshman curriculum takes a step toward equity. If not now, when? If not here, where? Decades ago, Oak Park walked the talk on white flight. Why not now on white privilege? Those who oppose this new change should challenge their faulty, outdated assumptions and join the effort to move every kid ahead.
Not just their own kids.
Together, I believe we can make the dream of educational equity come true.