Sunday, December 21, 2014

If We Encourage POV in NF, How Are We To Know Which Is Right?

The title of this post is a question that often comes when I make presentations about the new place of nonfiction for K-12. I claim that in the past we used to praise nonfiction for being "reliable," and "balanced." We stressed that such books were "good for reports." That is, a student could expect to find trustworthy nonfiction resources in the classroom, school, or public library.She or he could be sure that the authors had carefully considered all points of view and either come to a happy medium in presenting them or gave equal space and weight to each contention. The author, like the book, wsa above the fray. The student could safely set down and pass along a safe view that a teacher would approve. I contend that all of the above is the wrong approach for our time.

Students now have rapid access to a wide variety of resources, POVs, sources. We need to train them to examine and sort out hotly contested questions -- not to meekly repeat a safe digest. But how can we do that especially when the adults -- teachers, librarians, parents -- in many cases will not themselves know how to evaluate the loud voices and vociferous contentions. We don't want school to be a training ground in ideologies adults share without really evaluating or considering. I argue that what any adult can help a student to do is to examine what evidence an author presents, what is the nature and quality of the argument the author makes, and what Point of View is s/he expressing. We can be fair judges of how a contention is crafted, even if we have little or no knowledge of the subject.

This brings me to a recent post from Paul Fleischman on the question of balance and fairness. Here Paul is making a case beyond my appeal for judicial care. He shows that there are cases where there is an appearance of balance which is fact no balance at all. No one would seriously suggest that we tell students the Earth might just be flat, or that humoral medicine might be as effective as science based on viruses and germs. We can all add similar extreme cases. To take one contentious example: when the state of Kansas was considering whether to mandate that Intelligent Design be taught alongside evolution, scientists pointed out that if you wanted to give faith space next to science you needed to give absolutely equal time to all faiths -- since their claims transcend reason. The Wiccans, the Satanists, the fans of psychedelics would have to have as much opportunity to speak to students as mainstream faiths. Balance is not just a view with all possible, or even all firmly asserted, opposition. There is a point where we need to say that no, one view -- Science Does Report Human-Created Climate Change; Evolution; the Holocaust did take place -- is worth the attention of our students. A student may individually, with his/her family, in her congregation and community, believe as s/he likes. But we as educators have an obligation to share the abiding views of the expert and educated community.

Are experts always right? Of course not. Should we train students to question dominant views? Certainly. That is where evidence, argument and POV come in. If students find flaws in what we say, wonderful. But we need not give up and retreat in irrelevance. Students are surrounded with claims -- it is our job to help them sort their way through the clutter -- with forensic techniques and by defending the conclusions of science. 

No comments:

Post a Comment