Students need strategies to get reliable information

The Student Informer: Current Events and Opinion from Ben Alexander

We are living in a historic moment in politics (and not in the positive sense). The gravity of the current impeachment inquiry cannot be understated: this may well be only the third impeachment in the history of the United States.

Yet even with such a monumental event occurring as I write this article, many students are remarkably uninformed. This is no mark against them: students have busy lives and finding reliable information can be time consuming and difficult.

It thus becomes important to understand the facts of the impeachment inquiry. President Trump is thought to have withheld $400 million in much-needed military aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting which would signal political support in exchange for investigations into his political rival, Joe Biden. This has been seen as grounds for the impeachment inquiry launched in late September, as Trump is withholding official action in exchange for specific domestic political help, which has been referred to by Democrats as “bribery” and “extortion,” the first of which is significant because it is specifically outlined in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment. 

Recently, the House Intelligence Committee has been conducting public hearings into impeachable offences committed by Trump in this Ukraine scandal. So far, a variety of State Department and other executive officials have testified, many of them confirming these allegations, including the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, who acknowledged a direct “quid pro quo” between the Trump administration and Ukraine (“Quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase that refers to an exchange of things of value, often in politics. In this scandal, it refers to Trump conditioning the release of military aid and a White House meeting on investigations into his political opponents).

However, students at Shasta have varying levels of knowledge of the inquiry. Shasta A.P. Government teacher Henry Cooper recalled, “Early on, students were not aware of the Ukraine scandal or I don’t think they had a sense that it could become a full impeachment type inquiry,” displaying this initial lack of knowledge about the inquiry. 

But it is essential for students to understand the gravity of this inquiry, which is why it is commendable for the inquiry to be addressed in government class. Mr. Cooper addressed the inquiry with his students and explained his goals: “I wanted people to understand is, why are certain actions taking place at a certain pace. I’ve found it difficult being able to cover each day’s like public hearings now as we are on Expeditions.”

Students also feel more informed by the coverage of the inquiry in government class.

For instance, Shasta senior Peter Chan said, “It’s just given me an understanding because for the majority of like just the time I have been alive I haven’t understood how the government works. Just in general because no one’s ever taught me and I didn’t know where to start looking up things.”

Shasta senior Simon Aung got more specific: “Well, at first I thought impeachment meant removing someone out of office but actually it’s just a step towards that. So. Yeah there’s two steps actually.”

Providing students a place to learn about these essential occurrences of our democracy is among the most important function of such a government class, as it allows them to become more informed citizens and voters.

Yet students who are not in the senior class are not in government class and even the students who are will not be in the class forever. It is essential that students gain the ability to find reliable, true information about controversial political topics.

Mr. Cooper addressed this as well, he advised, “I think the best thing that students can do, whether it is the impeachment inquiry or other research topics, is just to go on multiple websites. I think people just get in their comfort zone on one or two web sites and at that point it is a very narrow stream of information. So I try to get a couple different sources.”

This is an essential part of allowing students to come to their own conclusions. They must go beyond a single source and reach out to read or listen to points that they might disagree with. 

Shasta Senior Pauline Ribiero, agreed: “Don’t look at one source and trust it right away … I feel like if you want to get the full view story you have to understand that you have to go look around and like actually like look for different sources.”

Moreover, it is important that students find reliable sources. 

Chan commented on how to do this: “Look up the political history in terms of talking about politics of whatever news source that you’re going to try and look at stuff for. Because if there is a history of lots of bias, there is a chance that you may get an article that either isn’t telling the whole truth or is telling the whole truth but to a degree.” 

This kind of scrutiny when thinking about where we get our news from is an essential skill for students to have as participants in society. Without multiple reliable sources that provide access to the whole truth, we can easily be blinded by propaganda and lies that often undermine our system of democracy.

Featured image (at the top of this post): The U.S. Congress livestreamed the testimony of William Taylor and George Kent on Nov. 13 as part of the impeachment inquiry. PHOTO CREDIT: U.S. Congress

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