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28 June 2013

America's Favorite New Game Show: "Name. That. Journalistic Style!"

I've written before on the blog that I now teach a frosh-only critical thinking course. It's a course unique to our institutional mission as the public liberal arts college within the state system here in Georgia. There are multiple sections of the course offered every semester by several professors across several disciplines. The shared goal of the course is to get new college students to start engaging with information on a deeper level rather than simply accepting, memorizing, and regurgitating "facts," a set of skills that most college students mastered to some level in high school. To these ends, in my class, I have students regularly demonstrate their nascent critical thinking skills by analyzing a current event using the sociological framing and research that we cover in the course. They are to choose a New York Times article as documentation of this current event, and I give them wide discretion about which event to choose within units focusing on poverty, sexism, and racism.

After a couple go-arounds with the course, what I found surprising is that the students are not struggling with what I thought they would. Generally, they show progress over the semester with the critical, sociological analysis. It's new for them, but they catch on. What most of them struggle with, however, is simply being able to distinguishing between op-ed, blog, news analysis, and traditional reporting. In their eyes--even though I give clear instructions about using only traditional reporting--if it is on the New York Times website, it is all fair game. Even more, they seem to struggle to understanding why some formats might be inappropriate for some purposes while others are not. This seems to be one of the unanticipated lasting gifts of my course: how to critically engage what you are reading, not just what what you are reading claims. Ideally, this is a lesson that students should be getting in a Communications or English course, but I'm happy to give them the sociological take on it.

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