Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Rethinking Accuracy

           Accuracy—one of the criteria for both the Orbis Pictus Award and the Sibert Award for nonfiction—is up for reconsideration. I do not say this lightly, but rather a little reluctantly, since I have been looking for evidence of “correctness” of information for many years. Yet, as Marc Aronson stated in his last post, looking for reliable and balanced views is in his words “the wrong approach for our time.” One book cannot suffice for providing use with a single view of either science or social studies topics. And, now I find myself agreeing.

            We need, instead, to show young readers that what we know—while generally reliable—is also subject to change. A look at what scientists refer to as the nature of science (NOS) tells us that scientific knowledge is tentative, yet reliable. That is, it is subject to change. Similarly, a look at the Social Studies C3 Framework tells us that history is about gathering evidence and using it to develop arguments about the past. So if we are to promote disciplinary literacy, we need to let readers know how to think the way historians and scientists do. This has been referred to as teaching them the “rules of the game” and inviting them to take part.

            We can begin to do this in small ways. Here’s an example. I just finished reading Margarita Engle’s book Enchanted Air: Two cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir. This book grabbed me on two levels. First it reminded me of why literature has such a strong hold on me. The language is beautiful and the narrative is gripping. I let go of any critical approach I might have to just simply enjoy the poetic words and images. But, second, I was eager to learn more about what it was like to grow up between two cultures—Cuban and North American. I read with interest about how the author grew to love her Cuban visits with family and the life she lived there, while balancing her Californian life. 

I know that this is not a straight work of nonfiction. In an Author’s note, the author tells us that while she has written a “true” story, “certain events are undoubtedly out of order.” Yet, the trueness of this experience is undeniable. The author’s note ends with her hopes that “normal travel and trade might begin to be restored.” These changes seem to be happening now.

Here is an opportunity to show historical change. One way to begin to learn about these changes is to follow the current news about Cuba. Begin by consulting the Breaking World Cuba News from the New York Times at http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/cuba
Read Enchanted Air to learn about how the author lived between two cultures and then update your understanding of what is happening now by following the news and examining more sources. I think that is a more realistic approach to accuracy.


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