Walking around the house and trying to get things done, you may suddenly hear a teacher’s voice coming from your kid’s room. There is nothing wrong with that and you’ve already gotten used to it, but what if you realize that what the teacher’s saying is – at least to your knowledge – not based on evidence? The easiest thing would be to ignore the whole situation as if it happened at school, without your presence. But with your sharp eye and acute hearing for falsehood, you simply know that this is not an option.

Last December, I received an email from a mother who shared abovementioned concerns and asked for advice. She witnessed her fourth-grader learning from his teacher that megastores are funded by “the evil foreign capital”, that the importance of caring for the environment is exaggerated and that all politicians are just bad and deceitful people. According to her, these statements were way too simplistic and might have triggered unnecessary anxiety in children. At the same time, she didn’t want to undermine the authority of the teacher and the school itself. It seems like a very uncomfortable position for a parent, don’t you think? Let’s take a moment to reflect on this kind of situation and list a few possible solutions.

First of all – don’t ignore it. Your wise reaction can result not only in your child’s better understanding of the issues raised by the teacher in class, but also impact their attitude towards information in general. Use this opportunity to sensitize them to a notion of reliable sources and verification. Referring to a real-life example is always more effective than an abstract lecture.

Don’t wait for too long. What seems really important to you may not be of concern to your kid. The moment they leave a virtual classroom they are very unlikely to remember the teacher’s remarks. Discussing an issue that has become a vague memory won’t be helpful, so start with a calm conversation. Admit that you heard some parts of the lesson and ask if you are not wrong. It would be great if that was just a misunderstanding, wouldn’t it? Assuming you’re not that lucky, make clear to your kid which claims you found misleading and why.

Focus on specific pieces of information rather than on the teacher’s alleged incompetence. It’s not a witch hunt; everyone, including teachers and parents, has the right to make mistakes occasionally. Explain the difference between mis- and disinformation and remind your kid that spreading false information is not always intentional. Point out, however, that whatever the motives may be, misleading information should always be addressed. After all, it is important to remember facts, not hoaxes. Therefore, when in doubt, compare a piece of information with some other, reliable sources and check if the claims are proved by evidence. This is one great exercise you can do with your child, and you can do it right away.

Search for the truth. Having done your research (or fact-checking, to be more precise), you are probably willing to take the next step and talk directly to the teacher. You’re still not sure what their intention was and you don’t want to take any guesses. Given the pandemic circumstances, you might not have the possibility of arranging an in-person meeting but sending an email will do just fine. Don’t forget to focus on facts. Ask politely about the sources of information used by the teacher in preparation for the classes. Share any doubts you might have regarding the reliability of these sources, and offer some alternative choices. Ideally, that will lead to a consensus and improved education based on facts (or, at least, on getting closer to the truth, something that you can achieve at that particular moment).

Keep your kid informed. Even if the conversation is not as fruitful as described above or hoped for, the process itself is as a great example that searching for the truth is often not an easy task and that it requires a lot of time and determination. Show your kid(s) some videos created by teenagers from the Teen Fact-Checking Network to convince them it’s never too early to start critically evaluating information.

Author: Patryk Zakrzewski (Demagog Association, Poland)

Background illustration: Photo by Halfpoint from Adobe Stock / Adobe Stock license