Current events are everywhere: headlines are available in an instant, clickbait permeates social media and internet sites, and talking heads deliver (often biased) news to their viewers daily. But for many, exposure to current events stops there. Among a sampling of Haverford upper school faculty members polled, just 30.4% reported that they discuss current events frequently in their classes.
Students also note the general absence of current events from their classes.
“Current events barely come up [in class] unless I’m in US History or it’s sports-related and someone just randomly brings it up,” Fifth Former David Stewart said. “Most of my news comes from me hearing other people talk about it or YouTube.”
According to the Pew Research Center, almost half of Americans get news from social media “often” or “sometimes.”
“When you look at current events on TikTok or Instagram, you’re getting 30-second snippets [of stories],” history teacher Mr. Jeremy Hart said.
But it’s not just length that causes reliability issues. Major media networks are often biased and bring one-sided views to issues. Fox News and MSNBC—which are frequently considered right-wing and left-wing media networks, respectively, receive the majority of American cable news viewership numbers.
Mr. Hart believes that student media exposure is influenced by sources. “If you’re watching Fox News or CNN, you’re getting, in my opinion, slanted points of view, and I think it’s really important today for students to know where the source is coming from.”
Students are concerned about media bias as well. Fourth Former Gabriel Crowder said, “Almost all news I come into contact with is biased. Finding a source that provides only facts and analysis is difficult, especially on controversial topics. In addition, anyone can post information regardless of if it is true or not, or omit important parts of topics and events to fit their own viewpoint.”
[Sourcing] is probably the most important thing, in some ways, that the History Department can do.Mr. Kevin Tryon
Even from reliable sources, headlines, 30-second TikToks, and even news articles might not expose readers to all facts and all sides of a story.
Media cycles often focus on a select few events, and not all events surpass the “threshold of excitability,” a term that Modern and Classical Languages Department Chair and Global Studies Coordinator Mr. Andrew Poolman uses in his Global Perspectives elective. The term, which Mr. Poolman teaches through the essay “An Attainable Global Perspective” by Robert Hanvey, refers to what interests consumers in their news. That which rises above the threshold—daily headlines, topics discussed ad nauseam on talk shows, etc.—does not always represent the events occurring around the world, nor does it fairly or accurately portray certain groups.
For example, Mr. Poolman, also a Spanish teacher, said, “Often, in Latin America, what rises above that Threshold of Excitability are things like gangs and [narcotics] trafficking and immigration, or problems within a government, so those are the common Latin American news stories, but in Spanish classes, we try to go beyond that and show that there’s much more to Latin America than those topics.”
Because of media bias, the prevalence of dis- and misinformation on the internet, and the omission of some information, media literacy, the ability to critically analyze stories presented in the mass media and to determine their accuracy or credibility is at a low. The News Literacy Project, an independent nonprofit, reported in 2022 that over 55% of American students were “not even moderately confident in their ability to recognize false information online.”
History teacher Mr. Kevin Tryon, who uses current events to begin conversations at the start of every class, said, “[Sourcing] is probably the most important thing, in some ways, that the History Department can do. The most important questions are ‘Who is the author’ and ‘What authority does he or she have?’”
However, he believes that he teaches media sourcing more effectively through research papers and annotated bibliographies than through current events-based exercises.
Mr Tryon has also noticed, questioned, and discussed misinformation that arose in his own classroom current events warmups. Yet, Mr. Tryon finds positives in digital media. He said, “As a sophomore, I didn’t follow the news. […] I would give the boys credit for being more aware of the news now than I was when I was growing up with print media.”
Discussing media literacy, Head of Information Services Ms. Lisa Snyder said, “Our news consumption has become individualized. Folks no longer have a common source for what’s happening in the world and why. And that can lead us to lose our common understanding of shared facts and history. To compound this, most of us get news from social media, which uses algorithms to anticipate what you’ll be interested in. These sites are designed to give you content that confirms your beliefs and biases.”
To supply reliable media, Severinghaus Library provides all students with a free New York Times subscription, but Ms. Snyder’s concerns raise a vital question: in addition to providing sources and educating students about reliability, should institutions like Haverford dedicate time to providing educational content on current events that may not be accessible through the media?
Teachers in various departments concur that educating about current events—whether for the actual content, the media literacy skills, or the lessons connecting to the world—is directly linked to various aspects of Haverford’s mission.
Chemistry teacher Mr. Will Leech connects education about current events to global citizenship.
“One of the key targets of the school is that we create global citizens,” he said. “Having conversations about real-world events is how I create global citizens in my class who are thinking from a variety of different perspectives.”
Similarly, Mr. Poolman noted that understanding “global dynamics”—which current events education can provide—is a crucial aspect of global citizenship.
“Having the critical thinking skills and the content base [to discuss current events] is part of what prepares boys for life.”Mr. Jeremey hart
Although connections to current events may be less apparent in content-driven science classes, Mr. Leech has found ways to incorporate events in ways that both align with his curriculum and stimulate broader discussions.
“This goes beyond subject knowledge, and it goes into more the skills, the application, and the transferability that we’re getting from discussing current events,” he said.
Mr. Hart, also connecting current events education to Haverford’s mission, believes that understanding current events is a vital part of Haverford’s promise to “prepare boys for life.”
“Having the critical thinking skills and the content base [to discuss current events] is part of what prepares boys for life,” Mr. Hart said. “It’s important to be able to have an informed discussion and figure out where you stand. That’s part of being an adult.”
Academically, some teachers find various ways to apply current events to their classes, but students also feel that direct learning about current events could be beneficial, especially when many media sources today are biased.
Stewart said, “I really hate when any news station has someone talking about their opinions because I’m there for the facts, so I prefer educational news.”
Fourth Former Elliot Lee agreed.
“I think school should talk about current events more frequently, as they are important to understanding our modern world today. After students graduate, they need to be able to function in society—part of that is understanding events in the world of politics, environment, economy, and more,” Lee said.
Teachers have also noticed students’ interest. In a recent lesson on the rise of the Soviet Union, Mr. Hart connected the Holodomor—the Ukrainian Great Famine—with the contemporary Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“I find that students are more engaged when discussing current events because they’re hearing things that are tangibly applicable to their lives,” Mr. Hart said.
Mr. Leech also found strong engagement when he taught a lesson about the recent train derailment and subsequent chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio. He also enjoyed introducing a new, relevant lesson into his normal chemistry curriculum.
“Often, I like to deal in facts. And I could share the facts about the chemical spill and the reactions that were happening, but then it went into the realm of ‘well, who do you think is responsible’ and then that becomes a little more of a gray area, and it’s really interesting to see my students in those sorts of environments, having conversations that would be more comparable to something in a history or English classroom,” Mr. Leech said. “It was really exciting for me. I love leading those conversations.”
Such discussions may be more prevalent in humanities classrooms, but, as Mr. Leech said, there is also space and relevance for current events in science classes and even an opportunity for interdisciplinary learning.
“If I were to make one improvement to the discussion I had with my students about the Ohio train disaster is that I would’ve loved to have gotten one of my history or English colleagues to discuss what’s going on with it in terms of the sources of the information, or the role of the media. I would’ve loved a bit of cross-curricular work between the subjects on the topic to have a conversation,” Mr. Leech said.
Across disciplines, current events have found a place in the curriculum and even align with Haverford’s mission and motto, but there is room for more. With misinformation and bias on the rise and media literacy on the decline, current events can be taught in educational settings to provide a short-term solution to a universal problem, and current events can also be used to remedy the media illiteracy facing the youth population.
“Current events are life. And they’re things that we’re all going to have to grapple with,” Mr. Hart said. “Having the space to explore those ideas [in upper school] opens you up to more ideas in the future.”
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