Sunday, March 27, 2016

Day 28: #SOL16- Some missing lessons in our nonfiction curriculum

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

Nicholas Kristof wrote a stunning editorial in today's New York Times about the role the media played in the rise of a politician. I'm still processing some of what he wrote, but one of the striking elements for me is the aspect of money. Kristof quoted one of my all-time favorite reporters, Ann Curry in his analysis of how ratings mattered to reporters.
“Trump is not just an instant ratings/circulation/clicks gold mine; he’s the motherlode,” Ann Curry, the former “Today” anchor, told me. “He stepped on to the presidential campaign stage precisely at a moment when the media is struggling against deep insecurities about its financial future. The truth is, the media has needed Trump like a crack addict needs a hit.”
It occurs to me that we don't do much to teach students to ask about who is making money. Who stands to gain financially from this story?  I'm not even sure I have ever done a good enough job myself of being aware of it. Reporting is a business, and social media has made it harder and harder to make a living as a responsible reporter of the news. We all have to make a living.

Earlier in the month, I blogged about a controversy in my own town that revolved around basketball. My daughter's team made the front page of the local paper twice in one week because of issues of social justice. When I first read the articles, I recognized them as a great example of irresponsible reporting. In our fifth and sixth grade nonfiction curriculum, we have lessons that challenge students to think about whose perspective is included and whose perspective is left out. What could the other side of the story be? I think this lesson is incredibly important. But it occurs to me that our curriculum is missing another lesson, entangled in another quote from Ann Curry: 

We failed to take Trump seriously because of a third media failing: We were largely oblivious to the pain among working-class Americans and thus didn’t appreciate how much his message resonated. “The media has been out of touch with these Americans,” Curry notes. 
Even if we are teaching about perspectives and whose stories are left out, I'm not sure we are teaching about who the reporters relate to, even without realizing it. I have some serious thinking to do about this.

I'm not crazy enough to think that the tale of Trump is one I'd ever use in our elementary curriculum, but Nicolas Kristof does make me continue to think about what educators have to teach students so that we are all responsible consumers of the vast amounts of information so readily available to us.

Happy Slicing,


  1. You are right! Perspective and purpose are so important. These are very difficult concepts to teach and I think I definitely don't do enough of this. I'm heading to read the article right now and ruminate on how to teach this effectively in my classroom.

  2. Wow Melanie, thank you for sharing and for opening my eyes. The article and your point is very well taken. Thank you for writing this post and opening my eyes to another way of seeing things.

  3. Wow Melanie, thank you for sharing and for opening my eyes. The article and your point is very well taken. Thank you for writing this post and opening my eyes to another way of seeing things.

  4. Really important questions here Melanie. Media itself is all a part of the stories we are told.

  5. I was told often by my grandfather to always discover in any situation "whose ox was gored", i.e. who benefitted, who was hurt, how reporting was swayed by the answers to those questions. You've reasoned, through these editorials, that we should consider all aspects of a conflict. Students even at a young age can begin to know about POV, then add more layers of the complexity as they mature. Great post, Melanie.

  6. You raise so many important issues, Melanie. It often feels, though, that this system is so entrenched there's no way out of it. Maybe educating kids from a young age about biases and motivations will start to change some of these issues. Thanks for raising these questions!