If you want a cesspool of human discourse, look no further than Twitter. While humans have always had the propensity to say mean things, we are now seeing more and more instances of humans hurling verbal daggers at one another. Cliques and cancel culture are commonplace across social media and even on the traditional news sites.
The trend toward bias, misinformation, and misplaced pride has also found its way into our classrooms. It is up to students to prevent it.
One example of this dangerous misinformation was showcased during the horrific shooting at the University of Virginia last year. The campus released a Tweet telling all students to remain indoors. The validity of this statement was put into question by many Twitter users due to the lack of blue checks indicating verification on the platform. A verified Ted Cruz account then replied by citing all of his blocked gun restriction laws as the culprit of the shooting, despite the fact he was not the real Ted Cruz.
Few people would use positive words to describe Twitter. For many, the words “Wild West” might enter our brains. Since Elon Musk became the CEO, the use of foul language has risen over 700%. Yet the user base has grown.
According to a report from NBC News last year, the largest culprit of this growth was the morbid curiosity of people who just want to see what new forms of verbal torture Twitter users would inflict on others.
So what is happening on Twitter? According to Elon Musk, free speech.
Humans’ propensity to argue can also be found in the classrooms of Wilson Hall. According to English teacher Dr. Micah Del Rosario, “There is a level of excitement in arguing which students enjoy…I wish there was the same level of interest when it comes to reading a hand-out or an article where students are presented with facts.”
Dr. Del Rosario also notes the nature of students to “argue for the sake of arguing,” despite the fact that they often are less informed than they think they are.
Misinformation can have dire side effects. Oftentimes, teenagers are exposed to false headlines on all social media platforms. Parents fall victim to this as well. Dr. Del Rosario says that sometimes students will blindly trust their parents or friends even if the information they received is proven false.
It can, at times, be easier to default to old opinions than it is to evolve our understanding into something new.
“It is natural for a teenager, when they are challenged, to respond in a way that may not be receptive to that challenge,” Head of Upper School Mr. Mark Fifer said. “That’s kind of the default position.”
Mr. Fifer thinks students may not be totally to blame for this.
“There is polarization of our world…of people being put into camps and information being funneled to the general population that makes it harder for people to engage in oppositional views,” Mr. Fifer said.
The connection of people through dialogue has been disrupted in society today. So what can students do to prevent polarization in our classrooms?
Mona Weissmark, a clinical psychologist and a visiting professor at Northwestern University and Harvard University, recalled a quote from her own professor, “We must learn to live in doubt, yet based on scientific reason.” This process is something that students must take into their own hands.
Sixth Former Colin Kelly does not believe that all students have to be deeply invested in every societal issue they are exposed to in class, but does believe that Haverford gives students plenty of tools to be more informed, from the school-issued New York Times subscriptions to thoughtful teachers that encourage conversations outside of class.
No matter how you look at it, the culture of bias, misinformation and misplaced pride found in society has affected our classrooms. Whether it comes from Twitter, parents, or other sources, students have been greatly affected by the oversaturation of information.
Knowing how to think and navigate narratives and to find tangible facts and solutions are key traits students should strive to find. Haverford, according to many faculty, gives students the opportunities to build these traits.
A red line has been drawn for students between informed thought and continued ignorance. The greatest question we must ask ourselves is: which side will they choose?