Teaching Research to Preserve Democracy

Google, Facebook, and Twitter have spent recent days sitting with Congress, explaining how Russians infiltrated our social media to purport false news stories, and an entire segment of our population has begun to utilize the term “fake news” at any cycle that sparks disagreement, muddying the waters. Feeling disheartened about information literacy? Librarians–let’s take hold of this situation.

If we want to stay effective, we cannot approach the world with pessimism. Our profession must instead move forward every day rooted in the belief that we can help our students develop into thoughtful, tolerant, critical thinkers and problem solvers. We need to believe that what we teach is essential for our students to become educated members of a greater community, and we need to understand that what we don’t teach sends implicit messages of priority to our children. So how do we weave this into our schools?

We do what librarians know best: we teach research.

And I mean we teach inquiry-based, authentic research that relies on the ethical consumption of news as often as possible. We work ourselves into classrooms and give students the opportunity to ask real questions, find real answers, and develop real conclusions. Passionately teaching research skills is not just critical for academic purposes; it is our civic responsibility. Our students must become masters at assessing resources, reading for bias, analyzing purpose and legitimacy, synthesizing multiple sources, and drawing their own conclusions based on data and facts. They must be smart in their strategies and able to recognize dubitable material and have the stamina to read deep into accounts and ask the right questions.

How can we do this?

  • Start a research initiative at your school. Talk research all the time!
  • Help teachers connect their content to relevant, real-time resources.
  • Assist teachers in developing research projects that encourage students to sort through material that makes them think and question.
  • Bring the library to the classroom–all research should start in the library; but be embraced in the classroom!
  • Run mini-PD workshops on small research practices; become a resource for your teachers.
  • Insist that opinions are supported by facts. And insist that facts are double-checked.

The very fact that so many voters in the past election season could not distinguish fact from fiction; real events from conspiracy; or allegation from truth is not just an indictment of how a foreign country embraced our consumption of social media, it is commentary on an education system that has not caught up with the rapidly changing, on-demand-news-cycle world.

Teaching our students to research well is the most critical skill we can help nurture in order to move the national dialogue to one that is civil and based on reality. Research is an act of citizenship. An act of humanity. An act of decency. Today, research is what will save democracy.

Fellow school librarians, let’s be the change agents in this dilemma. We’ll do it for our students’ futures, yes. But let’s do it for all of ours, please.



Photo by Samuel Schneider on Unsplash


Author: Angie Miller

Angie Miller is a 7-12 school librarian in Meredith, NH. The 2011 NH Teacher of the Year and the recipient of the 2017 NH Outstanding Library Program of the Year, Angie is a TED speaker, National Geographic teacher fellow, and freelance writer who writes for her blog, The Contrarian Librarian, and is a regular contributor to sites like EdWeek and the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet. As a co-founder of the initiative, Let the Librarians Lead, Angie leads professional development, speaks to audiences, and advocates for school leadership through librarianship. Her book, It’s A Matter of Fact: Teaching Students Research Skills in Today’s Information-Packed World, published by Routledge, will be on shelves in April 2018.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Intellectual Freedom, Professional Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

1 reply

  1. Great post, Angie! I look forward to reading your book!

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