Monday, May 27, 2013

The Dangerous Power of the Written Word

I teach GED preparation classes to adults, and the other day we were doing a fact vs. opinion exercise.  Students had to read four different reviews of the same play, and then decide whether various statements were fact or opinion.  It disturbed me how many students thought that anything written in the reviews was fact.  We'd come to something like, "The dull acting wasn't as bad as the lackluster dialogue," which was a direct quote from one of the reviews, and students would say, "It's fact.  It's written right here."

Perhaps it was my fault for not explaining better what I meant by fact and opinion, but it seems to be a thing people should know the difference between, at least theoretically, in order to survive in this media-saturated world.  Perhaps the difficult vocabulary was partially at fault, but I fear it is mostly a terrifying trust in the written word. 

Sometimes I purposely set my students on an Internet hunt for "facts" that are in dispute, just so they can see for themselves how you can't simply trust the first thing that pops up.  Many know this already, but some don't. 

My students are not alone.  I was baking cookies the other night, from one of those tubs of pre-made dough, when I saw this:  "Enjoy a Nestle Toll House cookie with nonfat milk for a wholesome snack."  So the fact that the milk is nonfat makes up for the less convenient fact that it's a cookie?  Come on, people.  One cookie isn't the worst thing, but it's by no means "wholesome."  I eat plenty of cookies and other treats because of their pure deliciousness, but I don't pretend they're healthy.  And putting it down in writing doesn't make it true.

So, next time you pick up your pen to write, think about the power you hold.  Use it wisely.

1 comment:

  1. It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword. But how mighty is a word processor?

    If an expert expresses his opinion on a topic within his field of expertise, does that make his opinion a fact?

    If you hold a taste test and 9 out of 10 people say that soda A is better than soda B, does that mean that the tenth person is lying when he says soda B tastes really good to him?

    If you are reading an instruction book and discover that one of the facts in it is false, does that mean the whole instruction book is just full of opinions?

    - Obnoxious Troll