How do you know if the news is telling you the truth?

“I saw it in the paper?” Does that make it true?

The Huffington Post reports we get as many as 1/3 of our news from private citizens.

These days, we get our news from so many sources that it’s really tough to be able to tell what to believe. If you look carefully, though, you’ll be able to detect bias and agenda. Every news source reports from a unique standpoint. They may be as objective as possible, or they might be broadcasting their opinions outright. As you start to look at the news, you must understand the following:

  • News reporters have unique backgrounds that affect how they report the news.
  • News is increasingly filtering down from “eyewitnesses ” and first-person accounts via social media. These are not trained journalists.
  • You have nearly endless choices of the type of news you will consume and where you can get your news. This means news outlets have to compete for your time or click.
  • There are different ways people like to consume their news. Some people like to read their news in a news feed, others prefer a brief and still others go right to traditional broadcast news or 24-hour cable news. YouTube is fast emerging as the source of choice for many of you.
  • News stories must have the basic “Who, what when, where, and why,” but they also have a unique point of view. You must determine that point of view and whether it makes sense when compared to all the other outlets reporting that story.
  • Data in the news can also be skewed, the same as stories. Make sure you corroborate all the news and data that goes into your brain. Ultimately, you make the call.

News Challenge: 

1. Notice where you are getting your news.

2. Evaluate whether that news is reliable.

3. What is your attitude toward the news–are you a believer or a skeptic?

4. Find news outlets that align with your beliefs, and those with whom you tend to disagree.

Can You Make the World Healthier?

“Miss, I never go to the doctor,” he said. He’d been sick for a while. Weeks. I was torn between my natural inclination to be concerned and the fact that every time he came into the room I thought he was going to infect me and I’d, die, too.

“Go! You’re sick.”

“I can’t. I don’t have health insurance. and she’s not taking a shift off from work. When I’m sick, my mom gives me Sudafed. For everything. It don’t matter what…Sudafed, and ‘Go to school.'”

We’ve been discussing the impact of major health issues. Some people talked about health policy on the world stage, and things that hit closer to home.

Here are four critical issues:

1. Global health: In this article, we see how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is trying to combat malaria, a mosquito-bourne illness that affects many of the world’s poorest tropical regions.

What are some health problems that plague people who NGOs are trying to solve?

  • AIDS
  • Clean water
  • Family Planning and childbirth
  • Hunger and famine
  • Injuries from landmines
  • …and many, many more

2. Insurance: With the recent controversy over “Obamacare” the nation has at least started the dialog of insurance for all. Is this insurance a good thing? Will small businesses fail to hire employees because of the cost burden? Will it finally get coverage for the nation’s least protected? This Washington Post “Fact Checker” breaks it down. Will you be one of the 23M Americans–7% who will be using Obamacare?

What is insurance anyway?

  • Insurance spreads risk. For example, you can’t afford a car accident. Trust me. The insurance company charges you an amount every month. On a good month, your car’s in one piece and they keep the money. On a bad month, they pay you for your damages. It’s sort of like gambling at Foxwoods. But far less fun, because the only time you win the jackpot is in some kind of disaster, like an accident, a fire, or a major health problem. Trust me–you’d rather complain about insurance prices than need to use them.
  • Insurance assigns risk. That means that they charge you based on your risk. Riskier people cost insurance more money.
  • Insurance protects you from large disasters. This is important, because one hospitalization can ruin a family financially.
  • Insurance indemnifies. That means it pays you to put back in the same position you started out… it’s not supposed to be a financial victory.
  • The Affordable Healthcare Act allows for preexisting conditions. In other words, if you were sick before, you can not be excluded from getting healthcare. This is a big thing.

3. Local healthcare issues:  Is there a difference in healthcare quality or accessibility? Do certain geographic regions have certain problems? Can we work together to solve local, national, or global healthcare issues?

What types of things are important to society locally and globally?

  • Researching for cures
  • Funding for initiatives
  • Prioritization

You might find there’s a lot to think about here. Maybe we can’t solve the problems of the world, but we can keep our eyes open for problems we can solve, then innovate solutions for them. This is what the best of the best do. It’s what separates YOU from the rest.

Genius Hour Pitches

So, you have an idea. You’re running with it. And then…

You realize that there’s something missing.  You’ve left something out. A big something. A project-crippling something.

You need to organize. You need to answer the BIG QUESTIONS. You need to write your pitch. If you were stuck in an elevator for two minutes with your idol, what would you want to say about your passion–about your project? How could you make it unforgetable?

1. What is your passion? What’s your project all about?

2. What problem are you solving? How does your project make the world better?

3. How do you attend to accomplish this? What secret ingredient does YOUR group have that will make the world AWESOME or solve the problem you intended to tackle?

4. Ask for something. What do you want your audience to do? Support your cause? Donate? Watch your video? Join your organization? Shop fair-trade? Eat more vegetables? Be clear. Be direct. Ask.

Make your presentation beautiful, clear, and exciting. The world is at your door…

Transportation and Social Justice

Think of all the things you can do if you can drive. You can go out with your friends, you can work, and you can travel freely on your own. Americans take driving for granted. The personal automobile has shaped our nation in a way that is unique. The wide-open spaces in America, the sprawling suburbs…these have all been created by the automobile.

Henry Ford’s goal was to make the car affordable for everyone, and that he did. In Europe, trains and public transportation define most cities. In most of America, if you do not have a car, you are at a disadvantage in terms of securing work and having the same freedoms as the rest of your peers. I waitressed my way through college in Rochester, New York, a city not known for it’s kind weather. If I worked an early shift, I could catch the 1:07 bus up East Henrietta Rd up to the mall. If I got out late, I walked the near five miles home. It took about an hour. Think of a mother trying to get home to her kids, or a person trying to get extra hours–if you spend you time waiting for busses, transferring, and walking, it’s difficult to get other things done.

Additionally, if you study bus routes in most non-commuter cities, they don’t go directly from place to place. In a commuter city like New York City or Boston, it’s easy to live life without a driver’s license.  In Providence–not so much. You will lose economic opportunities.

Now, think of not being able to drive. What would that do to your sense of freedom, your ability to make a higher-level living, and your ability to move your family around from place to place. When I was growing up, for years we only had one car for the family. If something so small as grocery shopping came up or one of us had to go to the doctors, my mother had to ask a friend with a car to do her a favor or wait until my father was home from work. This severely impacted her independence.

Think further. What if, by law, you were not able to drive. What if the government said, just based on your gender, you should not.

That is the case in Saudi Arabia. While there is no law stating women cannot drive, it is a custom, and women can be detained, harassed, or lose their jobs for driving. It’s simply not done.

We’ll be discussing several freedoms that involve the issue of transportation and mobility, and how such things change our opportunities in life.

The first will be the heroics of Manal al-Sharif. Watch her TEDx talk on this Learnist board: “Driving Men Crazy in Saudi Arabia”    Do not miss Learning #4 by Saudi comedian, musician, and social rights activist Hisham Fageeh. It’s a winner.

The Language of Observation, Analysis, and Interpretation

“God gave us only one mouth and two eyes and ears so we can listen and watch twice as much as we speak.”

I’m not sure of the origin of that quote, but it’s the mathematical truth. There are a lot of times in life when we fail to really observe. You might say, “Casey, this is a social studies lesson, not philosophy class.” True. But what if I asked you a couple questions?

Lets start off with “Has anyone ever given you the look?” I’ll say yes, because I’ve broken up fights about the look. What if you knew that person wasn’t looking at you but had some family problem? Would it change your reaction? Maybe?

Have you ever watched the news and said, “That’s the dumbest political problem…ever. They should just….” It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback when looking at the problems of others. Everyone else’s problems always seem so….solvable.

The Language of Observation: 

Using the language of observation helps us to get to a deeper level of learning. Use words like, “I see…I observe…I notice…I can identify…I discern…I detect…I recognize…I can locate… helps us to pin down things we can quantify or scientifically study.

The Language of Analysis:

Take this one step further. We can observe, but when we really look deep, we are analyzing. Analyzing is important, because it helps us pick up patterns. We need to see what’s right about a situation and what is unique. We infer meaning and we look for cause and effect.  Using the following sentence patterns help us to dig in and analyze:

  • This reveals…
  • This evokes…
  • This shows…
  • This contradicts…
  • This symbolizes…
  • This stands for…
  • This means…
  • This corresponds to…
  • This demonstrates…
  • This illustrates…

Find a couple more “Analysis phrases.”

The Language of Interpretation: 

Finally, after we’ve observed and analyzed, it’s time to interpret. That’s where you take all the genius inside you and make something happen. Most people want to be told what to think. It’s true–watch the TV news. They’ll tell you what happened in the world and they’ll tell you what you thought about it, if you listen closely enough. That’s tragic. The truth is, if you observe and analyze enough, and you use the language of interpretation, you have the inner expert the world needs. YOU can be the one that makes the call and provides the expert opinion. That’s what we’re trying to arrive at here!

Things like: “Therefore…” “We can conclude…” “This tells us…” are part of the language of interpretation.

Let’s look through a couple of images and see if we can observe.


Choose from the following photo essays. Analyze three photographs using the following format:

Photo essay on the Depression

Photo essay of 9-11

Photo essay of Hurricane Sandy

Photo essay AIDS in Africa

1. Observation: In this photograph I observed… (use at least three words of observation…)

2. Analysis: (use at least three words of analysis)

3. Interpretation: (use at least three words of interpretation)

What the World Eats

Food and water are critical subjects on the world stage. 

Time Magazine shows “What the World Eats” in pictures. It’s a very insightful look into the diets of the wealthy and the poor, the most developed and the least developed nations. Time shows what we value, in terms of food, family, and lifestyle. 

There are many food documentaries out there that outline our food crises–the unintended consequences of building an industrial based food infrastructure in America, with experts building arguments on both sides of this subject: 

  • for and against GMOs (health and safety factors vs. food availability and pricing, nutritional content)
  • for and against factory farming (health and safety factors vs. food availability and pricing)
  • for and against certain diet lifestyles (locavores, vegan/vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free)

Consider these arguments carefully as you decide on a food and health lifestyle that is right for you. Consider whether there is injustice in the national food supply and what we might do to correct that. Are you happy with the food choices you make? Do you live a healthy and balanced lifestyle or might you be at risk for health issues mentioned in the documentary Food, Inc?

There are no completely right or wrong answers, because the industrial food supply chain in this country has the responsibility for feeding a lot of people both in and outside of America. However, there are situations where we, as a nation, can do much better in food pricing, quality, availability, and quality. Please put your thoughts in the comments. 


Food Insecurity and Water Rights

Food insecurity is a serious issue. Arable land can be scarce, and when combined with issues of water rights, we’re beginning to see areas of the world where this is getting serious.  In our “food” video, it becomes clear that food and water are connected.  We need to look at food and water supply together.

I told a story about growing up in Eastern Connecticut. I lived in a suburb that had a lot of farm country sprinkled in and around. Growing up, there always seemed to be a farm at the top of the hill. I did a lot of cycling, so I noticed this–at the exact point where I could barely inch up the hill, there’d be a chicken farm. You haven’t experienced life until you’ve breathed in the richness of a chicken farm, knowing there was nothing you could do to bike any faster. I didn’t love that experience at the time. I do now. Now, I recognize that farms like these are disappearing from the landscape. Big business is taking over. The food supply in this country has been industrialized.

The idea of getting quality food is coming back into vogue.

Urban gardening and “guerilla gardening” have become movements in the United States and many parts of the world, and organizations like Food Tank are changing the way we see our food supply and infrastructure world-wide. Sometimes the smallest change–planting fruit trees in road medians rather than decorative plants, or tweaking an irrigation system, help people.

Here, you can see how one person with a vision changed an entire village. The video included on this Learnist board shows how water rights were central to conflict in the region of Gambella, Kenya. Artist, author, and entrepreneur AJ Leon organized thirty people, broke up the costs of building a windmill, and got the job done. Each person raised just $500. That’s doable. The windmill now stands, pumping water to over 600 families.

Food and water are critical things to consider. Avoiding waste, innovating solutions…these are things we need to discuss. They’re also things you can act upon. People are doing it. You can, too.

Issues to consider: 

  • unequal distribution of resources–how to get food and water where it needs to go
  • neocolonialism–the fact that many wealthy countries are buying land in poorer countries who may need the money now. When the land is sold, it’s generally used for companies and farming for the new owner
  • industrialized farming–one side of this argument says that big farms are necessary because we have a lot of people to feed. The other side says that by developing new seeds–GMOs–we’re becoming less and less healthy.
  • pollution–food and water supplies have become or are still contaminated in many parts of the world
  • the organic and local food movements–there is debate as to whether shopping locally or being organic is actually better. People feel strongly on both sides of this argument.

“The Rich Get Richer”

This is the title of a post taken from The Economist showing how incomes have changed over the last hundred years.  The Business Insider’s numbers are shocking as well. This is worth noting. It’s important to look at situations in the economy that cause economic downturn, but also to examine periods of recovery, as well. There’s always money to be made in both times–successful entrepreneurs see areas of opportunity in both times. Great wealth has been made in even the most troubling of economic times.

Critical Questions: 

1. What are some of the trends you see in these numbers?

2. What are the possible consequences of these trends?

3. What types of opportunities are available for you in an economy where it is getting harder to make money and harder to find a stable job that you’ll keep for the rest of your life? People do not stay at one job for their whole lives like they did two generations ago. How can you convert opportunities into a livelihood?


Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 5.38.48 AMYou go to the faucet. You drink.

You take an hour-long shower after practice.

You leave the water running while you brush your teeth.

Nobody calls the plumber for a leak.

These are issues that could never happen in many parts of the world–because there is no water.

According to, right now, our planet is in a global water crisis. .3% of water is accessible.  “Water is very local.” It’s expensive to access and not usable in many parts of the world.  The demand for water outpaces the supply.

Critical questions:

What are some of the issues surrounding water issues?

What is necessary for agriculture? Can it be reduced or repurposed?

What can the average consumer do to reduce consumption?

Can we create potable water sources?

How can we redistribute water to those in need?

How does water affect geopolitics?

How do we stop water wars?


Use these Learnist resources on water to help you become more informed on the water issues facing the world today. Make your own board educating us about critical water issues we have not yet considered.


[image:  Water crisis in S. Sudan]




The Ten Things That Affect You…

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 5.27.29 AMWe take the world for granted. There are issues all around us that need to be solved. Issues on a local, regional, and national level sometimes loom unsuspecting on the horizon…they don’t always seem to affect us, but they do.

Critical Question: 

What are the ten most critical issues facing the world today?

How do they affect YOU?

This year, we will investigate this question. Current Events isn’t always about the broadcast news, although that’s part of how we get our information. We need to be able to get accurate information, filter it for perspective, spin, and identify key problems. Only then can we solve them.

Please discuss the critical question in the comments.