Thursday, October 19, 2017

Guest Speakers on Campus: Stop Playing Fact or Crap with Students

I vaguely recall this game surfacing in the early 2000s, 2001 according to copyright.  The box was red and yellow:  “FACT OR CRAP?” its title challenged the buyer.  I never purchased it but it gave me a chuckle in the game aisle. However, we are a long road from 2001. I don’t feel much like playing any games. I also don’t appreciate all the articles maligning Millennials or “young people today” as lazy, useless, and responsible for the deaths of mediocre pop culture holdovers from the 1990s. I see teacherly friends responsible for all grade levels from elementary to post-secondary exchanging ideas and resources for helping students learn how to discern the quality and veracity of sources. Correction, I see the best of the teachers doing this.  We have a slick surface of reality problem in the U.S. right now and teachers, among all the other work they already had to do, are amping up the efforts in this area to provide young people with the skills needed to avoid getting hoodwinked on any number of topics. We have students genuinely interested in research skills and using their tech talents for good.

We also have a “Well, we need to hear all sides” chorus simultaneously. Which brings me to the crap portion of this post:  Why are charlatan speakers[1] being paid large speaking fees and given a legitimate stage at institutions of higher learning in this country right now? We have faculty in classrooms doing difficult work regarding untrustworthy sources and at the same time, administrators approving the purveyors of junk history, junk science, and just plain junk to appear on campus.  What the actual hell? It is today’s version of the traveling snake oil salesman[2] and universities are footing huge bills for security of fools when the money is greatly needed somewhere else.

Most of these speakers are not people without a platform to freely espouse their crap.  They have the internet, books they wrote (or ghost wrote), and certain TV and radio spaces that are more than happy to have them spout their trash.  Why are we giving them a prime space at an institution of higher learning where what they are doing is antithetical to the mission of education in the first place? It’s crap and most of them know it.  They’re making a fortune on it.

And that’s a fact.


[1] Yes, I am aware of the First Amendment, and here’s a nice higher education-focused summary of that:  http://college.usatoday.com/2017/04/20/do-controversial-figures-have-a-right-to-speak-at-public-universities/ However, I think that speakers should have to actually know something and be presenting information in good faith, backed by sound research or intelligence, if they are going to come to a campus.
[2] Some historical background on snake oil,mainly because it's pretty cool and interesting:  http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/08/26/215761377/a-history-of-snake-oil-salesmen

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