‘Fake News’ stories haunt Education and other sectors

At the start of this brave new year we are awakening to a cold, harsh reality: much information circulating and posing as reliable news is fake. Bogus. Drivel. A load of cowpucky.

Such stories are intentionally created to first hook our attention and then lead us into a false (fake) narrative that seeks to spark a reaction. All too often we share these fake stories through social media and thus enable otherwise tiny whoppers to grow into full-blown tsunamis radiating across the info-verse in all directions.

Fake News has been coming our way for a longgg time. Some of it’s fun and froth, but it can also be deeply insidious.

More importantly than sharing the story, however, has been the influence such stories produce on individual beliefs and values which function as the guidance systems for our behaviours and actions. Multiply this a thousand or hundred thousand times and significantly-unified perturbation results.

We are just learning of the odious and widespread impact such fake news stories produced in the recent US election. With a little sleuthing it’s been easy to follow the digital breadcrumbs to the vested-interest sources that produced such prodigious quantities of fake news, much to our collective shock.

But fake news isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s actually been with us for a long, long time, and used very effectively by vested interests including monarchs, would-be-revolutionaries, corporations and mainstream media (promoting all of the above; to wit, the quote from a news executive in early 2016: “Donald Trump may not be good for America, but he’s very good for CBS news.”).

And just as widespread, fake news exists in each domain of knowledge across our society, posing as timeworn-truths that resist scrutiny and live-on as if their narratives are grounded in truth when that simply isn’t true. Sometimes such whoppers have outlived their usefulness and pass quietly into history; other times they need to be dragged into the light of examination and expurgated. As for the former, an example might be the now-discredited practice of phrenology in which one’s character traits were determined by an examination of one’s outer skull. An example of the latter might be the spirited defense of the tobacco industry that smoking caused little or no harm to individuals, a narrative greatly assisted by the chimera of product advertising.

In the domain of Education, there remain two fake news stories that continue to live and loom large. These are the belief that such a thing as ‘Average‘ exists and it is a useful artifact; and the second is that ‘Intelligence‘ exists (somehow), that it can be accurately measured and is especially recognized by (narrowly-defined) skills of numeracy, literacy and western-oriented reasoning.

‘Average’ might be a useful measurement for helping mass-produce underwear, but an ‘Average’ person doesn’t exist. So let’s stop spreading that story.

Both of these narratives exist as widespread memes that influence education policies and practices. The problem is is that they are both false. They are whoppers that need to be deep-sixed, and soon. For their application is unnecessarily harming children, youth and adults and impeding societies, worldwide. And just as important to recognize: these stories are often driven by entities that derive much benefit from their existence; e.g. the multi-billion dollar testing industry.

But please don’t take my word for this. Confirm this for yourself by deepening your understanding of ‘Average’ and it’s applications (correct or misguided), and ‘Intelligence’. Your own investigations to this end may be helped by reading the insights of such researchers as Yong Zhao, Scott Barry Kaufman, Diane Ravitch, John Holt, Maria Montessori, Jane Goodall, and many others. I also recommend prospecting the work of the US-based  Center for Individual Opportunity (501C3) and Harvard University’s Laboratory for the Science of the Individual.

When fake news is a guiding light, darkness is never very far away. And if you lose the path while seeking the truth, you can always regain your footing by considering who is really benefiting from one story or another. To this end, you can’t go wrong by “following the money.”

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