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Destroy disinformation by emphasizing education

When Betsy DeVos, who served as the United States Education Secretary, resigned her position last week, the American Federation of Teachers issued a short press release from the organization’s president.

“Good riddance” is all it said.

That’s certainly the shortest press release I’ve ever seen. It definitely embodies the spirt of the old saying: “short and sweet and to the point.”

DeVos, in her time as the person in charge of educational decisions across the country, was quite a divisive figure. Some people liked her policy ideas and others hated them. The reactions to her resignation, I think, are a good example of how everyone has a different idea of what education should look like.

People in all kinds of school-related positions—from the ones who serve on school district boards of education and college boards of trustees to superintendents and teachers and parents—are always advocating different ways to teach, different subjects to focus on, different ways to test if the knowledge is sticking in kids’ heads.

In some cases, there is not much we agree on at all, except perhaps that education itself is important.

I agree with that idea too. In the past few years, I think it’s become more apparent than ever that we need to emphasize education as much as possible, especially in regards to critical thinking skills. It is not enough to merely have information; we have to be able to interpret that information correctly as well.

If we want future generations to live in a better world with a “brighter future,” then we need to ensure that they have the skills they need for that. And we need to have those skills too. I know I have said this in previous columns but learning should not stop once you turn the tassel on your graduation cap. It is a lifelong venture in our ever-changing world.

It has been particularly frustrating this past year to see so much disinformation, spread most often on social media but also sometimes just in regular conversation with people.

In regards to the pandemic, there are people out there who misinterpret virus statistics to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19 and its effects on people. There are people who still refuse to wear masks, despite experts pointing to proven studies that show that masks help reduce the odds of virus transmission. Things may have been uncertain in the early days of the pandemic, but we’re two months shy of a whole year now. There is plenty of data to work with to show that we should be taking this seriously.

It’s also been disappointing to see how little people know about historic events in our country. After the death of George Floyd in May 2020, plenty of people started having discussions about racial injustice. For example, “Juneteenth,” the celebration of when the last slaves were emancipated after the Civil War, was one thing many people learned about for the first time last year. I must admit, I’d already known what the holiday was about, but it was only after college that I first heard about it. Maybe it should have been included in my textbooks when I was in school. (I certainly never learned about it from a Civil War monument.)

And then there was all the misinformation around the election. I was truly baffled to see so many people who just didn’t understand the basics of our election process, such as how absentee ballots work or what offices were up for grabs other than president and governor. Civics class in high school was admittedly a long time ago, even for a young person like me, but it’s relatively easy to visit the North Carolina State Board of Elections website for a quick refresher. We should stop relying on anecdotal stories on Facebook when official sources like the NCSBE website are just as easy to access instead.

This week, I’m seeing a lot of wrong information about the First Amendment going around. Again, this is something that people can easily learn more about if they just take the time to research it from legitimate sources. I’ll admit I fact-check a lot of stuff before I write about it in my column. There’s no shame in checking just to make sure. You learn a lot of new things that way!

Lastly, don’t even get me started about conspiracy theories and the way they warp people’s ability to distinguish fact from fantasy. Their prevalence today just shows how important it is to have the ability to be discerning.

Like I said, there are plenty of things we can all disagree on about education. But it should continue to remain a top priority now more than ever. The pandemic has forced many kids to learn remotely, so we’ll have to work even harder to make up for any losses from this past year.

And then we should also make sure we’re educating ourselves too.

Holly Taylor is a staff writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.