My Composition students seem to think they can believe everything they read. Anywhere. If they can find it in print, it must be true!
This concerns me. I worry about them, the little lambchops. I worry about them when I am not cursing their collective names and wanting to send them to the work camps in Siberia.
I came up with what I thought, in some drug or alcohol induced fantasy, would be a great idea! I'd have them write a brief essay in which they look at two different websites dealing with the same topic, and compare the two sites on the basis of accuracy, authority, bias....things like that. It seemed so clear and easy to understand when I was dreaming it up. They would compare the actual web sites themselves....get it? Well, anyway, I thought they'd get it.
To make a long story short....they just had a lot of trouble GETTING it. Whaaaaa? They said? What on earth are you even TALKING about? How do you dream up this kind of IMPOSSIBLE shit? Originally, I thought they could choose their own general topics and pick their own websites. Nope. Even the smartest one in the class came up with the idea to compare two different kinds of....wait for it....joy sticks.
Joy sticks. Not websites. When I pointed out that, er, little problem, he said he'd find articles on each of the joysticks online. No problem at all!
So. I found the web sites. I picked easy to compare sites, with very obviously different philosophies and reasons for being. We looked at one of the easier comparisons I found for them in class. One of the sites was a commercial medical page giving information in one section on ADHD. This site is run and produced by MDs with all kinds of accolades, invitations to give expert statements to news programs, chapters written in impressive books and articles written for impressive magazines. That kind of thing. And all down the sidebar are ads for drug treatments. The other website was a personal page, a testimonial and collection of individual wisdom written by a mom. A mom with a degree in a type of science, but not a doctor. We looked at the two sites side by side in class. I asked them to consider what kind of authority each one was claiming. They did not understand that at all. Well.....how do they show us they know what they are talking about? Why should we read their stuff? Why should we trust them?
Maybe they both have a kind of authority, I said, but do they have the same kind of authority? Confused Connie was the worst one of the bunch, but she was definitley speaking for a group of them. "I don't understand at all what you are talking about!!" She said, and she was panicked. She is not a mean kid. She does not want to be a pain. She could not get it. I said it in a million different ways. She could not get it. "What do you want me to put in my topic sentence? Just give me the topic sentence, and I will try to come up with some facts." The very idea that you could, possibly, look at someone's authority, someone's level of expertise and experience and demonstrated reliability on a subject-----that idea is all just Greek to them. It's like trying to explain three dimensions to a cartoon. At the risk of sounding like a cane shaking old woman....KIDS TODAY CAN'T THINK. They don't know how to fucking THINK. And I just don't know what to do about it.