African Migrants – Motivation

Globe and Mail writer, Doug Saunder’s article “The real reasons why migrants risk everything for a new life elsewhere” is a great challenging read for senior students. It addresses stereotypes, requires critical thinking about the voices not heard in most news reporting and encourages further curiosity and research.

I find students respond really well to ideas that challenge conventional wisdom. This article encourages its readers to rethink what they “know” about migrants from African nations trying to reach Europe.  This Google Docs version of the article includes some response / analysis prompts: close reading task.

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The New World of Citizen Journalism

I had the opportunity to visit Mohawk College’s Journalism program recently. It’s very impressive.  I learned that the job of “reporter” has changed dramatically in the last 5-10 years. A reporter for a newspaper is no-longer primarily a writer. A reporter is expected to be a one person multimedia producing, cross-platform writing,  social networker. It’s very exciting and the students at Mohawk were learning every aspect of the business. Which leads me, funnily enough, to the debate over vaccines. 

On  February 5th, The Toronto Star’s front page cried out, “A Wonder Drug’s Dark Side”. What followed was a long story that as The Star’s publisher was subsequently forced to admit, “led many readers to conclude The Star believed its investigation had uncovered a direct connection between a large variety of ailments and the vaccine”. That quote is from the disclaimer that now appears on The Star’s website where the article used to be found. The Star has “unpublished” the original story.

The flaws in the original story were laid out in an LA Times report on the controversy: “How A Major Newspaper Bungled A Vaccine Story and Then Smeared Its Critics“.

 

In Our Classes

From an English class point of view this is rich material. 

  1. What a great opportunity to discuss research and bias. This blog post by Dr. Jen Gunter –Autopsy of Toronto Star HPV article and the real dark side of Gardasil they missed –is a terrific example of a persuasive research based essay. It’s a masterful example of effective organization and word choice. I especially like her title and its invitation to readers to discover the “real dark side”.
  2. The controversy is a terrific opportunity for students to examine the specific curriculum expectations of “critical literacy” and “production perspectives”. Gunter’s blog post highlights the need for readers to consider motivation and conflicts of interest when reading. This idea for a “Two Sides to the Story?” – research assignment uses the issue of “false balance” to teach the curriculum expectations of critical literacy and production perspectives.
  3. Finally, back to the students at Mohawk College. This story is a fascinating example of the shift in power caused by the Internet. 10 years ago the front page story written by The Star’s professional journalists might have been challenged by a few letters to the editor, perhaps The Star would have chosen to publish this rebuttal – “Science shows HPV vaccine has no dark side” –by Canadian scientists. But the debate would have happened entirely within the newspaper and would have been controlled by the newspaper.  As the publisher’s very defensive retraction proves, The Star does not back down easily. Today, the Internet provides a platform that democratizes voices. This story is a great opportunity to challenge students to consider these curriculum based issues:
    1. Confirmation bias;
    2. How to corroborate sources;
    3. Why we site sources in our research;
    4. Language usage – is Dr. Gunter’s critique of the language used in The Star’s retraction fair?
    5. False Balance” in news reporting (as comically represented by John Oliver as it relates to Climate Change – warning PG-13 for language – start at 1:08 to avoid profanity).

Stream of Consciousness on Racism in Canada

Watching an old movie with my daughter led me down a stream of consciousness about race and culture and prejudice that reminded me of some texts that could be useful in the teaching of character analysis or persuasive writing.
I was watching the old John Grisham film A Time To Kill with my daughter. In the film, newly minted Klu Klux Klan followers plant a burning cross on the lawn of a lawyer defending a black man. My daughter asked a very sensible question, that I’d never processed before, she wondered how a burning cross became a symbol for white power.

This led to a Google search which led to a Wikipedia article and the uncomfortable discovery that the most recent example of a racist cross burning mentioned in Wikipedia happened in Nova Scotia in 2010.

That story reminded me of a terrific Radio Lab podcast about a young woman who rejected her family’s imposed identity (her mother’s birth certificate listed her as “negro”) and adopted a new identity for herself as a white woman in a high school full of racial tension.
And finally, that story reminded me of a pair of articles from last month about racism in Winnipeg.
None of these texts are particularly uplifting, but all challenge us to confront our stereotypes and prejudices.

As part of an examination of the depiction of character traits or an analysis of the inner conflicts faced by characters in short stories or novels I wonder if these stories / articles might provide some interesting fodder for discussion.

Ally’s Choice – Radio Lab podcast about racial divides in a family. The Radio Lab podcast challenges the scientific validity of the concept of race.

These two articles consider the reality of prejudice and injustice in Canada towards First Nations people: Winnipeg the Most Racist City in Canada and a rebuttal, Is Our City the Most Racist In Canada?

These could also be useful as part of a study of persuasive writing. Students could consider the reporters’ attempts to create a convincing arguments to support ideas.

PuppySwap – The Puppy Subscription Service

This clever video is a great example of “selling the problem” — and it’s horrifying.  People are abandoning dogs as puppies outgrow their cute stage and become a nuisance… so let’s create “PuppySwap”.  The viewer is left to wonder where is the man taking the older dog?  What’s going to happen to the dog?

This could lead to some great critical thinking.  Possible prompts:

1. At some point did you start to doubt the authenticity of the ad?

2. Why do we consider the idea for this service to be morally unacceptable? Do dogs have rights?

3. How big a problem is pet abandonment? How could we find accurate information about this issue?

It might be mean, but I’d be inclined to pause the video just before the title comes up at the end and ask the students to react and comment prior to revealing the true purpose of the ad.