I spend part of my time helping my students develop critical thinking skills. It is one of the most interesting aspects of my job as a teacher. However, it has become increasingly more challenging. Spin in our culture has become the norm when it comes to information presented to us. How can my students glean the truth when the truth is filtered at best and manipulated at worst? Clearly, the image of Penn State University, and especially, the Penn State football program, was spun in such a way as to make us see their program as the epitome of class and character. For years, when Penn State was winning, their image was spun to present their program as winning "the right way." When they lost, they did it with character and sportsmanship, again, doing it "the right way." Well now we have come to understand that their image was spun at the expense of children who were abused by one of their assistant football coaches, Jerry Sandusky. A decision was made by the four leaders of Penn State, President Grahm Spanier, Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz, Athletic Diirector Tim Curley, and Head Football Coach Joe Paterno, that to expose the wrongdoing of Sandusky would hurt the image of the school. I think we can read into this as meaning that corporate sponsorship, such as the multimillion dollar contract Penn State had with Nike, would dry up if this information about abuse at Penn State were to come out. Trust me when I tell you that I perceived Penn State as being one of the football programs in our country that could be proud of their program. So I got spun like many of us.
The spin is everywhere. Our major political parties cherry-pick information that supports their agenda and gains them access to power (and money). When a conservative or liberal group speaks, how can i determine the truth? And if I struggle with their spin, how will my students be able to ascertain the truth?
Health Insurance companies sought to spin the truth when President Obama proposed health care reform at the beginning of his first term. Publicly, their industry spin doctors said they would be part of the solution to our country's health care crisis, while behind the scenes, they fought at every turn to make sure ObamaCare was defeated.
Big Tobacco, for years, spun the truth about the debilitating impact of tobacco use, stating that there was conflicting scientific research on the subject. The spin was that tobacco use might not, in fact, have anything to do with cancer or heart disease.
The NFL, for years, spun the idea that there was no scientific evidence that concussions suffered while playing in the NFL had anything to do with impaired health of retired players.
Anyone selling anything these days, whether it is the image of a college or corporation, or the performance of a product hires PR and marketing firms to spin the public into believing the hype about something or ignoring the negatives. We're talking billions of dollars spent annually and in every walk of life. It's all to make money or keep someone from losing money. How can I expect my students to cut through the haze of misinformation or outright lying to determine the truth? The saddest part of this is knowing that by the time I get my new students this coming year, they will have been subjected to years of spin and brainwashing, as will have their parents. How do I cut through this? Should I even try? I don't have anyone spending any money on my behalf to spin the notion that the truth is a valuable gift; one we should search for throughout our lives.