We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident: Learning & Discerning in 2020 & Beyond

As this post “goes to press,” we stand poised at a threshold. The 2020 Presidential Election is nigh. Each election is a tipping point, and this one is no exception. In a year rife with strange days, the possibility of an unaffected retention or transfer of power seems doubtful. Among the many factors impacting the entire process are ideas our country’s very human and flawed yet well-versed founding fathers begat and passed down to us. The aims they expressed have yet to be fully achieved, though we’ve long held them to be self-evident. Perhaps they’re not manifest after all, though they should be. Preaching and practice were not and still are not always aligned.

Given this, the role of the school librarian is more significant than ever. We’re charged with helping children and young adults better understand where we’ve come from, where we are, and most important, where we’re going. To do this, we must enable them to divine our national and individual origins and rights, help them discover how to locate valid information and identify disinformation, and show them how to figure out how to form and (courteously) express opinions and weigh options. It seems a daunting task, but there’s none worthier. Here, a brief glimpse of what’s necessary and what’s out there to meet the needs.

“What’s past is prologue.” –William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Each second that’s just passed is history and undeniably impacts the here and now. To better understand the inception of our country and its binding documents, and thus our American identity and our “unalienable rights,” it’s best to go to the source. By collaborating with our colleagues teaching social studies and history, we can provide students with a clearer picture of our beginnings through access to primary sources that hail directly from our colonial and Revolutionary years. Here are some resources to incorporate in these collaborations:

The Library of Congress is an invaluable font of information related to the American experience, including this guide to publications and personal papers of the Founding Fathers: https://guides.loc.gov/american-founders-papers.

The National Archives house America’s founding documents (and a great deal more), complete with thorough explanations, hi-res downloads, and even the opportunity for students to “sign” the Declaration and/or Constitution: https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation provides visitors with the chance to learn via the site’s Teacher Community and the HERO media library, through which visitors can meet “Nation Builders” and view “Created Equal,” a look at the Declaration of Independence from African-Americans’ viewpoints: https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.org/.

Colonial North America at Harvard Library is an ongoing and ever-growing searchable collection of digitized materials, all of which hail from the 17th and 18th centuries: https://colonialnorthamerica.library.harvard.edu/spotlight/cna

PBS Learning Media offers an extensive assortment of resources related to the time period from 1754 to the 1820s, and another pertaining to the election process: https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/subjects/social-studies/us-history/revolution-and-the-new-nation-1754-1820/ and https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/election-collection/.

“I can be able to front this present time.” –William Shakespeare, Antony & Cleopatra

Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” fifteen years ago, and it’s now officially defined by Merriam-Webster as “a truthful or seemingly truthful quality that is claimed for something not because of supporting facts or evidence but because of a feeling that it is true or a desire for it to be true” (2020). This concept heralded today’s “alternative facts” and “fake news.” Yet, again, truth should be self-evident–and objective.  So what can we do to help our students  sift the wheat from the chaff? Once more, we can show them how to get to and evaluate sources–reliable ones, that is.

Media Literacy Now is a national organization that advocates for media literacy education and policy and provides an extensive collection of resources, including the Thinking App: https://medialiteracynow.org/resources-for-teachers/.

The News Literacy Project is a nonpartisan project that offers a myriad of materials, including lesson plans and activities, infographics, and the Checkology virtual classroom platform: https://newslit.org/educators/.

NewseumED maintains an online presence devoted to educating young and old alike about the First Amendment and media literacy: https://newseumed.org/.

“The future comes apace.”  — William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale

Time is fleet-footed, and information runs just as rapidly. In order to contribute meaningfully to society and positively impact the future, students need to do two things. First, they must keep up. Doing so involves having the opportunity to access information, engaging in the difficult work of discernment, and forming an educated opinion. Schools have the capability to ensure that the access is present. School librarians can assist with substantial research and provide a wealth of information about our country’s laws, government, voting process, and more. Then students themselves must accomplish the formation of their own convictions. Second, as students strive to build their mindsets and be well-informed, they must prepare to accept and tolerate the differences of others, despite what their own viewpoints may be. Respect is a learned behavior. Frequently, the responsibility of modeling and teaching civility is educators’ and librarians’.  

Teaching Tolerance was founded in 1991 and its stated beginning mission is “to eradicate intolerance.” It offers lessons, learning plans, short texts, film kits, and posters: https://www.tolerance.org/classroom-resources.

Savvy and standards-based, both BrainPop! and Flocabulary feature content in a hip format that’s student-approved and delivers the civic-minded goods with scads of materials regarding citizenship, democracy, and all the components thereof: https://www.brainpop.com/socialstudies/ and https://www.flocabulary.com/subjects/social-studies/.

Much of what’s written here should be obvious, or self-evident; yet it’s become apparent that we should take nothing for granted. Therefore, let’s join together to learn from the past, from the grave mistakes and the times the human spirit triumphed. Let’s discern in the present, find and face the facts, and forsake the feigned and false. Let’s educate our students and ourselves, consider others’ views, and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  Together we, along with the children we teach, can hold the truth and make it evident–not just to ourselves, but to everyone with whom we share this country and this Earth we call home.


Author: Lia Fisher Janosz

I am Regina Libris.

I’m…a Bibliothecaria Rebellatrix (“librarian…because Book Wizard isn’t an official job title,” at Sharon Elementary School in Alleghany County, VA) wending a way through the seven ages whilst geeking out over Shakespeare & sundry other stuff. I am rather like Hermione Granger and have “conjured” floating candles in our school library. I’m an admirer of Eowyn and would place myself somewhere in the middle of the shieldmaiden-healer spectrum. I am inimitable, I am an original, and yet I am totally #TeamHamilton (see what I did there?). I’m a graduate of the Longwood University School Librarianship program and an avid reader and lifelong learner (and, apparently, Mistress of the Obvious as well). Any rumors regarding me having a crush on either Stephen Colbert or Chris Martin (or Benedict Cumberbatch or Andrew Scott) are completely…irrefutable. That being acknowledged, I am the loyal consort of an unsung prince of Poland and very proud mother of a tornadic, talented, and talkative wunderkind girl and a happyhopper jollyjumper bouncyboy who has a memory like an elephant.

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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4 replies

  1. Thank you, Lia, for your thoughtful post.

    May I add a quote from Dr. Cornel West? “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

    School librarians and other educators have the opportunity and the charge to guide students in developing their hearts as well as their minds. Literature paired with information can help us do that.

  2. Thank you Lia for clarifying the undeniable connection between history, media literacy and civility. Love the quote Judi!

  3. Thanks, Judi! That is a WONDERFUL quote from Dr. West.

  4. Brilliantly written and very timely. School librarians can inspire us all, and especially the children, to search for clarity in all the confusion of our age.

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