There has been no period in recorded history when security concerns have not been a feature of the world in which we live. The media would have us think that things are getting worse, that the world is becoming less secure and more violent. But is it? Is the world really deteriorating when it comes to security and conflict? Is that actually true?
As we each try to answer that question, Harvard Psychology professor Stephen Pinker urges us to look not at the headlines, but at the data.
It is certainly true that there are places in the world where local security issues have deteriorated over short time frames. But it is also true that there are many places in the world where security has improved, rates of violent crime have fallen and where conflict rates have diminished. Stephen Pinker’s data is clear on that. On a global scale the data tells us that the world is not getting less secure: quite the opposite.
The thing is that those facts do not make good headlines. There is something in our psyche that seems to demand stories of chaos and threat. We have all known people who seem to live for the latest horror story and who delight in spreading bad news. We know that ratings soar when the TV news screens the latest tragedy, and the mass media barons know it. Good news stories don’t attract advertising revenue. For that you need shock, awe and an ongoing narrative of doom. Ignore the data. The medium continues to be the message.
In the midst of all this sit millions of children around the world. If they are lucky, they attend school, have access to the internet, they listen to their parents and they watch those around them consume and share facts and fiction with little to distinguish between the two. How are those children forming a picture of the world? What does that world look like to them? How are they able to find a path that separates out reality from fantasy, truth from exaggeration and falsehood? Who is helping them?
If we do not find a way to help our children see the world for how it truly is, and not how some would have us believe it to be, the price will be heavy. Our future politicians will base their decisions on fiction and feeling rather than knowledge and understanding. Our future scientists will base their theories on myth and instinct rather than on data and verified fact. Our ability to connect with others will be tainted by lies and prejudice, rather than informed by empathy and experience.
It may be that we are already doing these things. It may be that we are already a long, long way down the road of basing our judgments, feelings and decisions on a diet of false news and processed or politicised media content. But, as an educator, I cannot allow myself to believe that it is too late to turn things around. Every politician who spouts lies and uninformed falsehoods is an opportunity for a great teacher to show children what ignorance looks like. Every so-called scientist who supports unproven science in the name of political policy is an opportunity for schools to show children what happens when logic and reason are corrupted. And every mishandled tragedy or politically inept response to a global need is an opportunity for educators the world over to inspire children to be better than those who fail to serve the people who placed them in positions of power and authority.
The first casualty of war may well be truth. But we cannot let truth be a casualty in our schools and in the work we do with children.
Educators need to keep truth alive, speak truth to power and equip our children with the tools and passion to do likewise.