Last week, I didn’t write here about the school shooting in Michigan. I wrote about a Christmas tree stand, which was my way of writing about hope.
Last week, a friend sent me a poem, written by a father whose daughter is an art teacher, that was, in part, about his wife spinning wool in the wake of the school shooting, and I felt the deep pull I have been feeling for years to leave schools and take up useful, concrete work I might do with my hands, so that I, too, like the poet’s wife, might “disappear” into “gentle quiet.”
Last week, though, I stayed at school and didn’t take up wool-spinning. I went to school and taught the lessons I’d planned not knowing there would be another school shooting. (Know that, for me, school shootings are not unlike my migraines, in that the question is never if there will be another, but only when there will be another. I try not to let them dictate too much of my life.) I taught my students about the media bias chart because it is a tool I am asking them to use to evaluate sources of information. To be able to comprehend the chart, we had to dive into conceptually-rich vocabulary: liberal, conservative, fact reporting, news analysis, propaganda, fabrication, extremism, reliability. I divided them into groups and asked them to find sources to verify their definitions of the terms, something that proved valuable when we realized that different groups were sharing different, sometimes contradictory ones for the same words.
We talked then about nuance, about how Wikipedia, despite being routinely banned as an acceptable source of information by many teachers, is (like most tools) neither all-good nor all-bad; we talked about how it can be useful for some purposes if you understand how it works and how to use it. We talked about how most sources of information contain articles with varying degrees of bias and reliability, making it nearly impossible to blindly trust anything we read only because it comes from a particular source. We talked about the more-than-sometimes arbitrariness of rules and how my restriction that they can only use sources with a reliability score of 40 or higher on this bound-to-be-flawed (because created by humans) chart is both arbitrary and reasonable.
And we talked, just a bit, about the school shooting, though only to use it as a vehicle for understanding the differences between “original fact reporting” vs. “fact reporting” vs. “complex analysis” vs. “analysis” vs. “opinion.” We talked about it without emotion, I think because the possibility of lethal violence is just a part of the landscape for all of us who spend our days in schools, in the way that my poorly-functioning projector or classrooms that are often too hot or too cold or laptops that don’t work are so much a part of the backdrop they aren’t remarkable enough to comment on. (Outrage and despair and bewilderment are not sustainable over time; the unthinkable, if it persists long enough, becomes not only thinkable, but normal.) I used the school shooting as an example to illustrate the chart’s concepts because it was a current event that didn’t require me to build any schema for anyone; we all know about school shootings (though some were not aware of last week’s particular one) and how they are reported on in our media.
Last week, what I wanted my students to learn is that even in a world full of cacophonous contradiction, there are facts and that we can find truth if we know how to look for it. I wanted them to know that the world is full of far more gray than black and white, and that multiple shades of it can all be useful in knowing how to find answers to our questions.
Last week, this week, every week, I wanted and want and will always want to give them what they need to live in a world where school is–and, for them, always has been–a place of lockdown drills and existential threat and adults who refuse to do what’s necessary to keep them safe.
There is more than one way to “knit whatever it takes to keep another warm.”