When Sam Wineburg was a fifth-grader setting out to write a school report on the Bermuda Triangle, a librarian introduced him to the definitive resource of its time: The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, which he recalls pointed him to two magazine articles on his topic. It’s a far cry from the number of references you’ll find if you type “Bermuda Triangle” into your internet browser today.
“Schools have not prepared this generation of American citizens for how to deal with this avalanche of unvetted information,” says Wineburg, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) and founder of the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG). “The problem now is not finding information—the problem is what to believe.”
On this episode of School’s In, Wineburg joins GSE Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to talk about how to make sense of the mass of information online—and why even a crowdsourced site may be one of the most authoritative.
Wineburg shares SHEG’s research into the practices that professional fact-checkers use to evaluate the credibility of material on the internet, including lateral reading (opening new browser tabs to help corroborate or refute the initial claim) and click restraint (scanning search engine results thoughtfully, as opposed to what he calls “promiscuous” clicking). He also discusses the connection between digital literacy skills and the future of democracy.
“This is an issue of informed citizenship,” says Wineburg, author most recently of the 2018 book Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone). “Polluted information is to civic health what polluted water and air pollution is to public health.”
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