I was talking with a professor colleague at the library school where I teach an online course, and she mentioned she came across an interesting distinction between people who are uninformed and those who are misinformed. The first group are open to learning while the latter will reject what conflicts with their thinking.
I have been going over the difference in my mind for several days. As school librarians we deal with both categories. Our students for the most part are uninformed and whether it’s for a class assignment or their own personal reasons they are looking for accurate information. We are very good at helping them fill in the many missing blanks in their knowledge.
We also deal with students who come to the library with misinformation, and for them we need to think through how we approach this so they are open to accepting facts. I believe the reason the misinformed cling to their beliefs is related to something I discussed in a blog last April – eighty percent of our decisions are emotionally-based. We use the other twenty percent to justify them.
With our students this may not be the case. It can be they just came across something in a Google or YouTube search and never bothered to verify it. You can manage this, along with the uninformed by having students complete a KWL chart before embarking on a research project. Add another column after the “K” for “H” – How do I know it? This provides the basis for fact checking, and gives us an opportunity to review the importance of validating sources.
When there is a strong emotional investment, you need to be careful. This often surfaces when students are doing a pro/con paper. Many years ago, I had a student who had strong religious beliefs on abortion. She wanted to do her pro/con on the topic and we had a brief chat. I pointed out to her that in the course of her research she would have to read and evaluate sources that contradicted her beliefs. Those arguments had to be presented and refuted with facts, not personal convictions. While her research might confirm her views, there was no guarantee it would. I told her if she couldn’t accept the possibility, she should choose another topic for her paper.
Depending on their backgrounds, our students walk into our libraries with many convictions on climate change to evolution and more. These may not stand up to the rigors of academic research, and we do need to allow them the choice of whether to explore those topics. This is not a denial of their intellectual freedom. The access is there if they choose to investigate the subjects.
Probably nowhere is the issue of emotionally-based decision making more apparent than in political views. As the presidential race heats up, the difference between being uninformed and being misinformed is likely to become more obvious, particularly when the views held are contrary to your own. It will affect teachers as well as students. Your responsibility is to have resources on all sides of the issues, whether or not you agree. To keep your relationship with teachers positive, stay out of political discussions unless you talking with close friends with whom you know the subject is safe.