“the news” & Amerigo Vespucci

16 11 2009

in class today, workshopping the penultimate paper of the semester, this one source-based and so the subject of a great many conversations about how to cite which things, in which formats, including how much information, where on the page, etc., etc., etc., S asks me, across the rows so that everyone gets to listen to the exchange, the following leading question:

“I don’t have to cite this, right, because I heard it on the news.”

“What news?” I asked her, as a preface to asking “when” and then showing her where in her guide to find how to cite a particular news broadcast.

“I don’t know. What do you mean? It was on the news. So it’s common knowledge, right? They talk about it all the time on the news.”

“Okay, S., but what station where you watching? When did this ‘news’ happen?”

“I don’t know,” she says, getting frustrated with my stupid question, which she clearly does not know how to compute. “Why does it matter? It’s not like it was a person–I mean, it’s just the news.”

I raised my eyebrows at her, trying not to look particularly sarcastic or superior, because I’m paid to teach them, not to be a jerk (which, I’ll have you know, is the hardest part of the job some days), and try to explain. “It’s still a person speaking, saying something written by another person or group of people, sponsored by a particular network. Yes, you have to cite it. There is no such thing as “the news.” There’s no one “news.” Some of “the news” thinks Obama is unpatriotic and should be fired, but not all of “the news” thinks that.” “That’s true,” H editorializes, looking at me as if I’m very wise, then looking over her shoulder at S., to make sure she’s following, because they’re sweet in this class and look out for each other (all the more reason to try not to be a jerk) “Figure out where you heard that,” I tell her, “or listen until you hear it again, and cite wherever you hear it.” D. leans in to suggest she can look at online news sources too, to find one that’s even easier to cite, and we’re back on track.

For now.

These are the same kids, though–and in this story I feel really, really warranted using that word to describe them, despite PH’s injunctions against doing so–who had a sentence structure worksheet 2 weeks ago that had the arrival of Europeans to the Americas as the common topic of the sample sentences (presented as a simplistic look at how the process of historical study has kept revealing earlier and earlier “first” arrivals). This worksheet mentioned Leif Erikson and Bjarni Herjuolfssen by their full names but Columbus and Vespucci by last name only, and one of the sentences said something about some scribe writing down the name of the “new” land in honor of the latter. In each of my three classes, one brave young person raised his or her hand and asked me what in the world that was supposed to mean, since our country is clearly not named “Vespucci.” I chuckled the first time, and teased the young person about not remembering his/her third? grade history class, and fished hopefully in the others, but the rest of each class verified the question-asker’s confusion:

They’d never heard of Amerigo Vespucci. Not one of them knew. Apparently–and they were collectively outraged, when they realized from my tone of astonishment that I expected–and they reasoned, given the “basic” nature of the factoid, that that nugget of information really ought to be common knowledge among the citizenry–no one had ever told them where the name “America” came from.

“Why didn’t they teach us that?” they demanded, as if I should have an answer. I passed the buck; I’m not from here. Somebody else makes and carries out those decisions.

“God,” one of them–I forget now who–said explosively, “it’s no wonder people bitch about the state of education in this country.”

He got a couple of “amen”s.

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15 responses

17 11 2009
metalmonkey

Thank you for trying to remind them that newsmedia is/are people, telling other people things that may or may not agree with each other, or even be true.
โค the news.

17 11 2009
metalmonkey

Thank you for trying to remind them that newsmedia is/are people, telling other people things that may or may not agree with each other, or even be true.
โค the news.

17 11 2009
reedrover

Wow, and ow.
Your story illustrates a secondary problem with people who are pursuing education: a lack of intellectual curiosity and energy (motivation? drive?) to pursue and retain secondary sources of that education. For example, one of my history songs had a line about “Was old Leif Erikson the first to seek the setting sun, or was it Madoc after all, that Welshman…” and my next question was “Who is Madoc and why didn’t I hear about him before?” Admittedly, I’ve forgotten most of the mapping of that rabbit hole, but I remember Madoc, at least.
… And now that I can snatch the wiki reference in less than 20 seconds, I wonder if there is too much readily available information for students today, and not enough time to digest, ruminate, and decide on what is important enough to retain and what can be relegated to “I can look that up when I need it.”

17 11 2009
reedrover

Wow, and ow.
Your story illustrates a secondary problem with people who are pursuing education: a lack of intellectual curiosity and energy (motivation? drive?) to pursue and retain secondary sources of that education. For example, one of my history songs had a line about “Was old Leif Erikson the first to seek the setting sun, or was it Madoc after all, that Welshman…” and my next question was “Who is Madoc and why didn’t I hear about him before?” Admittedly, I’ve forgotten most of the mapping of that rabbit hole, but I remember Madoc, at least.
… And now that I can snatch the wiki reference in less than 20 seconds, I wonder if there is too much readily available information for students today, and not enough time to digest, ruminate, and decide on what is important enough to retain and what can be relegated to “I can look that up when I need it.”

17 11 2009
l_stboy

Since we usually name things after people’s last names, and not their first, a guy at the BBC has made a case for America being named after a Welshman, not an Italian:
http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/article.aspx?article=6501
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Ameryk

17 11 2009
tyra

neat!!
can you imagine how much cooler school would be if they taught us maybes instead of faux-certainties dubbed “facts” (and glibly, eternally divorced from their “opposite,” “opinions”?
especially now that the web puts infinite & evolving maybes right at educators’ & students’ fingertips?
i think i’m going to like this country better, thinking it’s named after a welshman! ๐Ÿ˜€

17 11 2009
l_stboy

Some people need ‘facts’, right or wrong, because unknowns are distressing. If you have a little knit bag full of pub quiz (brain bowl?) answers and you can look at the world and say, “I get it!” you’re probably a little more content. I am oddly comforted by maybes, and I haven’t really figured out why yet.
For example: Airplanes may not fly for the reasons we were taught: http://danielmiessler.com/blog/what-you-learned-in-school-about-how-planes-fly-was-probably-wrong

17 11 2009
tyra

because they mean anything is still possible. because it’s still kind of magic to watch things work and be wrong about why. it validates wonder and curiosity and skepticism. and poetry. ๐Ÿ™‚ it’s like the wings of bees–it doesn’t ultimately matter how the physics work, to the allure of the idea. what’s compelling is doing the math, guessing, doing new math, guessing again, and writing about that improbability and defiance. because even if it’s not true about the bees–if the right math does show they can fly–it’s true about some things, things all around us. we don’t know everything we think we know. it’s all still waiting to be truly seen for the first time. it’s all still waiting to be discovered.

17 11 2009
tyra

neat!!
can you imagine how much cooler school would be if they taught us maybes instead of faux-certainties dubbed “facts” (and glibly, eternally divorced from their “opposite,” “opinions”?
especially now that the web puts infinite & evolving maybes right at educators’ & students’ fingertips?
i think i’m going to like this country better, thinking it’s named after a welshman! ๐Ÿ˜€

17 11 2009
l_stboy

Since we usually name things after people’s last names, and not their first, a guy at the BBC has made a case for America being named after a Welshman, not an Italian:
http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/article.aspx?article=6501
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Ameryk

17 11 2009
pictsy

They’d never heard of Amerigo Vespucci.
Inconceivable!

17 11 2009
tyra

don’t you mean “inconthievable!”? ๐Ÿ˜‰

17 11 2009
pictsy

They’d never heard of Amerigo Vespucci.
Inconceivable!

19 11 2009
ccangels

yeah, um, I don’t remember that Vespucci guy either. But then again, there is a lot of history from K-12 that I forget or do not remember if I ever knew.

26 11 2009
tyra

did they tell you about the welshman? (Richard Amerike–or ap Meryk–I know this now because I looked it up, because I couldn’t bear that there be other cool stories floating about that I hadn’t heard!) did they tell you ANY sort of guess of an origin-story for this word everybody likes to sing and shout and get proprietary about?

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