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  • Pauline Hoffmann

Education is a fundamental human right.

So said U.N. Secretary General, António Guterres. This issue of WTF? (What the Facts?) is being written and posted on International Day of Education. I often write about the importance of education. One might say I have a bias toward education. I am, after all, a professor. Education is my life. Bias aside, education is important.

Before I continue, let me offer a correction. In the last issue of this newsletter I discussed the importance of context. One of my examples was Buzz Aldrin's alleged claim that the moon landing did not happen. In my explanation I noted that Mr. Aldrin was the first to walk on the moon. That is incorrect. He was second to Neil Armstrong. Data Doyenne regrets the error.....but owns it.

That correction comes about because of education. I realized after I posted my issue that I may have gotten it wrong. Then one of my astute readers (thanks a lot @DKassnoff), pointed it out. It made me feel pretty good, actually. Why? People are reading this newsletter! Yay!

Enough digression, back to education.

Secretary-General Guterres goes on to write of education:

It’s the bedrock of societies, economies, and every person’s potential.
But without adequate investment, this potential will wither on the vine.
It has always been shocking to me that education has been given such a low priority in many government policies and in international cooperation instruments.
The theme of this year’s International Day of Education reminds us that “to invest in people, prioritize education.”

Invest in people, prioritize education. AMEN!

I am also writing this issue at a time when we are hearing about increasing barriers to education. Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Guterres. Government policies regarding education go both ways, sadly.

A recent U.N. report noted that Afghanistan is the only country in the world to suspend education for women and girls. (UNESCO has a wonderful LinkedIn newsletter. It's current issue describes the educational situation in Afghanistan. Subscribe.)

In the U.S. we have state governments restricting education on certain topics and continuing to ban books that may run counter to prevailing ideology. We have what seems to be a fear of our own history. A fear of the "other."

We need to invest in education, yes. But we also need to find ways to ensure we continue to educate ourselves beyond what is required. Do you have a curiosity that allows you to explore beyond your high school or college coursework? Do you read, listen, view material to enhance your knowledge? Do you try to increase your understanding of those who are not like you?

Why does this matter? When we see disinformation spreading at an alarming rate, one wonders why. When misinformation seems so obvious, how is it that so many are taken in by the lies? I've addressed some of the reasons in this newsletter and will continue to do so. I would argue that education is a key component in the battle against disinformation. We need to learn to think critically.

This week also happens to be News Literacy Week, sponsored by the News Literacy Project. (I know, I know, how am I containing myself amid all the excitement!) Education and news literacy together. That's as it should be.

The News Literacy Project has so much useful information to help you in your fight against misinformation, but I am borrowing the following five tips to help determine if a news source is accurate:

  • Do a quick search. Last week when I heard about Buzz Aldrin, I did a quick search to see what I could come up with. Several reputable outlets had already debunked it. They did the work of finding out when Mr. Aldrin allegedly made the comments and in what context.

  • Look for standards. People don't often think that the media have ethical standards, but they absolutely do. In fact, you may take a look at the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics. If you see a "report" in a media outlet, take a look at other stories from that outlet. Do they seem to have high ethical standards? If not, next source, please.

  • Check for transparency. Reputable news outlets will note anything that could be construed as a conflict of interest. For example, the Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame. Amazon is often covered in the news whether good news or bad. Articles from the Washington Post will preface that fact with a statement that essentially notes - "in the spirit of full disclosure, this paper is owned by Jeff Bezos." That lets the reader know there is a level of transparency in the reporting.

  • Examine how errors are handled. I have news. Mistakes happen. We all make them. How are they handled? I offered my correction earlier in this newsletter. Are errors handled well in the news outlet you are viewing? As a note, I had a colleague tell me that often the corrections you see in a newspaper, for example, are corrections because a name was misspelled or a photo wasn't credited appropriately. Rarely is it something like, wow, we got that story totally wrong! So don't jump to distrust a news outlet because an error was made. Dig deeper.

  • Assess news coverage. Take a look at other stories covered by the outlet. Are they fair and balanced? Generally speaking, a story will have more than one source. If the writer focused on just one person, be suspect. There are two sides to every story, as they say. A good reporter will get both - or make a damn good effort to try. That will also be noted. How many times have you read something like, "this reporter tried to reach Mr. Aldrin for comment but he was busy eating cheese from his moon landing." [That is a joke. The moon is not made of cheese.]

These are just some tips to assess news stories and their accuracy.

How do you continue to educate yourself? Now more than ever it is easier to do that. The internet is filled with continuing education or continuing education-like online programs, webinars, etc. It is also easier to find crap. The same rules apply to finding quality education as would apply to finding out if something is true or not. Who is the "authority," when was it produced, where is it available, etc.

Books are also a wonderful resource. Morally and ethically speaking, I find banning books deplorable. Educationally? Maybe not so much. If someone tells you you can't do something that's the first thing you do. It's the hot plate at the restaurant dilemma. Don't touch this plate, it's hot and then that's all you want to do!

The last several years I have taken it upon myself to learn things I didn't learn in school. I want to know why people feel as they do and why they believe as they do. In order to have the understanding, I need to understand the history. Why?

I've been working in health care. I've posted here about people who are reluctant to seek out health care, particularly the vaccine. Yes, there are data to support a bipartisan take on this but there are also data to support the idea that marginalized people are reluctant to seek care because of past collective trauma. Well, I need to understand that!

We cannot run from history. We need to learn from history. We need to learn from each other. Sure, we can practice the "head in the sand" strategy and hope that if we ignore it, it will go away. I never recommend that. It's like a cancer that metastasizes and kills you.

On that note. Cheerio!

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