In the UK, a key pro-BREXIT argument was the return of £350m a week sent on the EU to the NHS – yet there were no details of what the funds were for, nor how they would be repurposed. Even the UK’s Statistics Authority described the claim as misleading, but that seemed to make little difference.
This appeal to emotion has been strongly replicated in the 2017 White House. We’ve had Trump accusing the independent press of creating fake news, Sean Spicer presenting ‘alternative facts’ in a White House briefing, and press secretary Kellyanne Conway talking about the Bowling Green Massacre as a justification for the US travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries – an event that never occurred but that reportedly now around half of Trump supporters believe to have taken place.
We need to think about our children immersed in these conflicting and opposing views from a range of information sources, and how it will affect their ability to understand knowledge and truth. These could be construed as deeply philosophical questions however on a day-to-day basis, what children really need to know is how to identify that an alternative fact is not a ‘fact’ but rather n , no matter how inelegant the term, a lie.
Children often believe what they’re told by a parent, teacher or peer, and I’ve have one child correct me on the details of the Big Bang theory as he’d seen a programme describing how the Earth was made from rocks colliding and, as it was on the Discovery Channel, it must be true. That truth, of course, meant that nothing else could be true too.
We have a duty to help our children learn how to identify what is true and what that means, what to believe, which information to trust and how to assess what they’re told – how to become well informed, flexibly minded decision makers. As Angie Hobbs, Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield says, “Philosophy can help children have the courage to ask why something has authority, or why someone is right. This in turn helps protect them from indoctrination. Philosophy is about giving people the tools to run their own lives.”
At the Learn2Think Foundation we are making the assessment of truth the core subject of this year’s November celebration of the UN International Day for Tolerance. And practical help for teachers to achieve this is what we’ll provide, with lesson plans across the curriculum showing children how to move up the truth ladder, by finding facts, exploring perspectives and identifying bias. If your school would be interested in taking part, you can sign up at www.toleranceday.org.
This article first appeared in the March issue of Education Today