How do we Teach the Complexity of Truth?

by Beth Knittle on November 30, 2013

One man’s truth is another man’s fiction. Wikipedia starts off with a pretty good definition of truth then goes on to a lengthy discourse on the philosophy of truth and its relative nature.  It is one of those funny terms we all know what it means yet we don’t seem to be agree on what is true, just watch the nightly news.

When we teach our students Information Literacy and help them to become better researchers and users of information we are in essences helping them sort truth from fiction.  We teach them to look for evidence, supported facts, accuracy and relevance. We help them differentiate from fact, opinion and inference. Do we help them understand the relative nature of truth particularly when leaving the some what straight forward area of  of science and step over into the social sciences?

Wikipedia states that “truth is often used to mean in accord with fact or reality…” Taking a look at the hot button issue of the day, health care, we can see examples of this relative nature. To someone who could not get insurance before due to a pre-existing condition the new health care policy is a good thing .  To someone who lost insurance and can no longer afford the new policy it is not.  An individual’s reality is different, therefor their ‘truth’ is different.

In schools were time is limited and curriculum are tightly controlled do we engage in these types of discussions? Should we? I have been a student for a long time and in most of my education I was told what was the truth, which conclusion to draw and which opinion was valid.  I believe it was for the most part due to a lack of time, it was easier to guide us to the most accepted ideas of the day. Which in turn only perpetuated those ideas as widely accepted because other view points are not exposed.

There is one class that stands out in my education as the class that taught me to think critically and had me question everything, my high school US history class.  I can hear Mr. Note now, though my memory is tainted with Jack Nicholson saying “you can’t handle the truth.”  He made us think, he made us question, he made us look at ideas and policy from so many different perspectives our heads hurt.  We deconstructed, dissected, discussed and debated a variety of ideas and policies.  We honestly did not know what to think one day to the next.  Because for the first time we were asked to have our own thoughts, come to our own conclusions and learn to support them.

That is the class by which I have judged all others; that defines what education and learning are supposed to be.  That class represents my ‘truth’ about the goal of education creating curious, critical and reflective learners.

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