Poetry memory: The Months by Sara Coleridge

This classic poem from the 1800s is a great way to walk through the seasons with descriptive language. I currently have my 3rd and 4th graders in our co-op memorizing this. The rhymes bounce between common and unpredictable, and the imagery really creates a sensory experience with each month.

The Months

by Sara Coleridge

January brings the snow,
makes our feet and fingers glow.

February brings the rain,
Thaws the frozen lake again.

March brings breezes loud and shrill,
stirs the dancing daffodil.

April brings the primrose sweet,
Scatters daises at our feet.

May brings flocks of pretty lambs,
Skipping by their fleecy dams.

June brings tulips, lilies, roses,
Fills the children’s hand with posies.

Hot july brings cooling showers,
Apricots and gillyflowers.

August brings the sheaves of corn,
Then the harvest home is borne.

Warm September brings the fruit,
Sportsmen then begin to shoot.

Fresh October brings the pheasants,
Then to gather nuts is pleasant.

Dull November brings the blast,
Then the leaves are whirling fast.

Chill December brings the sleet,
Blazing fire, and Christmas treat.

Two Bad Ants: fun activities and the Big 4

Spring and summer is the perfect time to bring out those bug books and studies… considering we can observe them all around us again. (Guess we’ll be doing a mosquito study soon. Sheesh!)

It was on our agenda a couple of weeks ago to study ants… and as I was perusing the library shelves for some fun reads to include, I came across Two Bad Ants. What a delightful little read, and it led to really great learning and play… and curiosity! Win win win!

If you have read other learning posts of mine, you know I’ve been a classroom teacher for years– and that time has shaped how I wanted to teach my own kiddos at home. We are Charlotte Mason/Classical-based (eclectic a bit) in general, but something that I find really shapes learning time well– inside and outside of the classroom– is remembering the Big Four: imagine, encourage, educate, and enjoy. (Note: Charlotte Mason herself was not a huge fan of “lesson plans” as she believed the best education–even only education– was self-education. I don’t disagree. Think of The Big 4 as a framework to hang principles on, not a lesson plan to stick to rigidly or you fail, okay?)

With that said, let’s walk through the Big 4 with this book, shall we?


Imagine

What’s so amazing about fun, living books is that they foster imagination in and of themselves! We don’t have to “try” to make the imagination come alive. Children are born with curiosity and imagination; our biggest challenge is to not get in the way! Two Bad Ants is SO fun in this department. It forsakes familiar words with descriptive language in a way that can made the book a series of riddles for the kids to mentally answer (especially younger ones!), and the perspective of the pictures make the book so fun to “enter” in. As your kiddos are listening to the story, don’t be afraid to pause and let them get curious! My kids asked some really great questions here, like “why do the ants call the grass a forest?” and “how do we know they landed in sugar?” and “why did the ants fly through the black slits in the wall?” What great opportunities to ask them questions back and get them thinking to answer their own questions! You can even take time here to “imagine” being ants or seeing how height and angles change perspective. Crawl on the floor and observe what you see differently, now that you are lower than normal. How about standing on a stool or chair? What do you see now?  

Another way to incorporate imagination is to basically allow them to get creative.

Do they want to make up their own story about the ant?

Put on a play?

Design their own ant playground… which makes me think of Honey I Shrunk the Kids…

Draw an ant? Great! Let them! This book made my 9 year old want to grab our Natural History book and check out all the ants there before deciding to draw her favorite. Awesome!

encourage

When it comes to this principle, I take it different ways at different times. The main way I try to think of incorporating encouragement is seeing what the Bible has to say about what we are learning/observing. What does it tell us about the object we are discussing, or the character we see in the story?

The Bible actually does talk about the ants and what we can learn from them. It tells us to consider the ants and be like them. Why? (Ask your kiddos!) Because they work hard and prepare well. What are some ways we can do that? That question led to a lot of good responses, and their answers included some things that we do as a family and some that we can improve on.

Another way that I like to think about encouragement is making sure that I’m seeing where my kids are growing and improving and making a point to encourage them in that. This isn’t lesson specific, per se. But even as we doing some activities with the book, and the kiddos were asking questions, I make a point to use positive feedback: “What a great question! Let’s see what we can learn about that!” Or “That’s a good observation; you looked really closely to see that!” I want to encourage their effort without making it about me and my “pride” or happiness in it– although I am both proud and happy when they are giving great attention and adding to their own learning!

Educate

Of course, “education” is something that can happen anytime, anywhere. We don’t have to plan or force it to happen. But in the “educate” category in my head is about me figuring what tools I need to give them and what goals I have for them. Basically, it’s asking myself what plates, napkins, silverware, and ingredients are needed for the “feast” that day. And just like every “feast”/buffet doesn’t have every single cuisine represented, I don’t think we need to feel the burden/obligation of making sure every. single.learning.moment has every single type of academic “food.” In other words– if I want to focus on science/nature during that time, I totally can without including fine arts and all the other things. 🙂

Here’s what I did after reading this book: I got out salt, sugar, and our little magnifying glasses. When my buddy asked how we knew the ants landed in salt, we used the book to answer that question for us– but then we decided to take a closer look at salt and sugar itself. It’s looks pretty similar when we look at it our “normal” way– but what if we take a closer look? At closer inspection, we can definitely see that salt and sugar AREN’T the same. We talked about the differences we could see with a little magnification– which ants would have naturally, being smaller and much closer and with different kinds of eyeballs!

We also did a taste test and observed those differences, too. 😉

Later that night for dinner, when we chatted about what we learned with daddy (hello, extra narration!), the kiddos were so excited to share what they learned– all on their own!

Meanwhile, I had plenty to jot down in my planner that day under “science.”

Enjoy

As I’m sure you can see, there were so many things that were “enjoyable” about what we had done so far that this “box” basically checked itself! Crawling around on the floor, tasting and seeing salt and sugar up close, and reading a fun book all felt and were enjoyable to my kiddos! However, you can always bump this up even more by pulling out any bug games you might have! We actually played a dice game called People Vs. the Ants. We played two variations of this: doubles and odds & evens.

We divided a paper in half and labeled one side People and the other Ants. The idea behind the game was that we are at a picnic and the ants are coming. If we win, we don’t have to move to a new picnic spot; and if the ants win, that means they took over our picnic and could eat all of our food. (Hello there again, Imagination!) Any time we rolled a double, we had to add them together, and that score was added to the ants side. Anytime it wasn’t a double, we added the score together and put it on the people side. Whoever got to 50 first, won! (We won, because we didn’t roll a lot of big doubles.)

We played it again with odds and evens. If the numbers rolled added up to evens, it was put in the People column, and if it added to an odd number, it was an ant score. (This game worked on head addition for my early elementary student, and my kinder boy is learning odds and evens, so he got to work on that, too!)

The kids got an extra dose of “enjoyment” because they love any kind of game… and I got something extra in the “math” section of the day.


Well friends, that’s it! That’s how I took this book and applied the Big 4 to it. If you are wanting to read Two Bad Ants and plug these ideas in, I hope you find your experience with them enchanting and delightful to your family… but more than that, I hope you see how the Big 4 are ideas that can be applied to any book and any day! They definitely help me to create an atmosphere of education in our home. 🙂



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If you want to read more about the Big Four, go here, or watch this video that I recently did about it. 🙂


A little note: the amazon links in this post are affiliate links, which means you don’t pay any extra pennies if your buy through them, but I might. Maybe. 😉

The Big 4: my education (and life) essentials

If you go back over some of my education-themed posts (in the essential learning section), you’ll notice “the Big 4” pop up here and there. As a recap, my essentials— a checklist, if you will— that I try to incorporate while we learn together at home are: imagination, encouragement, education, and enjoyment.

In this new video, I chat more about what each of those look like during my day, give an example about how I used a living book to weave the 4 together, and most importantly, the big picture as to *why* I try to place each one purposefully in our day.

If you want some sort of structure to your learning time that leaves room for wonder, try using these 4 in your own home. I trust you will find them a beautiful way to think about and shape your time together. 💛

storytelling: ideas to help our students narrate well

If you have come across Charlotte Mason at all in your research about homeschooling– or if you would describe your own homelearning style as Mason-leaning– the term “narration” is probably one you are familiar with.

There are a lot more articles and even books that go into a lot more detail about what narration is and why it is important, and I’m not going to re-invent the wheel here.

The point of this post isn’t to take the time to define what it IS, but to remember what it is NOT. Narration isn’t just a regurgitation of the facts or plot-line of the story. It isn’t just us getting to see what the student knows–or doesn’t. I mean, it CAN (and probably should) include both of those purposes. But that is not all it is.

The purpose of narration is an invitation– and invitation for the student to make the information, the story and the lessons and impacts of it… his or her own.

Because there are ALL types of learners, it stands to reason that there will be all types of storytellers and all kinds of ownership.

A danger that we can fall into when we ask our kids to narrate is to accept– and maybe even encourage, because of time, energy, etc– that we get the “easiest” version of narration from them: basically, a simple retelling. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a retelling… but sometimes, some learners own stories in different ways.

I have found that my oldest isn’t a fan of simply retelling– she wants to create something. She will use figurines, peg dolls, playdough, etc. to create scenes. She wants to put on little skits and give lines to her smaller siblings (bless their hearts, ha!). A simple re-telling? No thanks.

I think it is hard for us as parent-teachers to come up with narration ideas on the fly if our kiddos are being a bit… hesitant. Sometimes all our children need is a germ of an idea and the freedom to run with it.

So, I’ve made up some bookmarks to print out and place in your books and read-alouds. Your child can choose off of the list or you can have a fresh idea rotation, come narration time! Several of the ideas I tweaked from the following post by Simply Charlotte Mason, but I intermingled several ideas of my own that we have done over here. ❤

Happy storytelling, friends! May we be encouraged by how the power of story and living tellings of them shape our students and ourselves!

build a long rope: how to memorize long passages

It is said that “Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” (It’s a Chinese proverb, I believe.)

Regardless of whether or not you are a fan of memorization, no one can ignore the fact that we do have to remember something/be able to recall it to actually learn it, apply it, and create with it. That’s one of the main reasons memorizing takes its place as the base of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Being able to recall facts creates the ability for a student– for all of us– to be able to begin wrapping our minds around it, applying it to our lives and situation, analyzing connections, evaluating what we are learning… with the hopes that we can create something new out of it.

We can talk forever about how our current educational system might rely too much on remembering, or mistake remembering for education itself… and I actually have strong thoughts and feelings about that: as a teacher in a classroom for years myself (high school and college), I have definitely felt very frustrated about how pre-assessing and assessing and post-assessing whether or not students learned content was basically just memory-based– when learning is so. much. more!

But that’s not the point of this post. 😀

The point is: we DO need memory. Memory is the foundation for us not just to remember things, but to work and play with information and thought and art in our own heads: to “follow us” by simply being with us. Within us.

I have memorized A LOT in my educational journey. Not just for tests and quizzes, but for performance. Part of my undergrad and graduate degree requirements were me, myself, and I creating and performing 50 minute to 1hr and 10 minute one-woman shows. That’s a LOT of memorization.

But the memorization was just the first step. It was the first way for me to get that text in my head… to trickle down into my heart. I can’t tell you how many times I would be rehearsing the memory in my head, and suddenly I would get light-bulb moments about what the text really meant and how I could perform it. Suddenly, I would understand the characters in the story or the lines in the poetry I didn’t– and wouldn’t– without having it secure in my mind first.

Memorizing passage– classical and religious– is something we do in our home because I believe in the value of having thoughts, not just words, shape the hearts and the minds of my children.

So, how do you do it? How do you learn long passages? And to take it one more step… how can you get your students to do it as you use it in your home and homelearning?

In this very “amateur” video (because I don’t have equipment and a fancy home studio or anything. Instead, you get to join me at my kitchen table with a chalkboard in the background, ha!), I go through what I have done, what you can do, and how you can adapt the long-passage memory technique for little people and slip it into your morning time easily.

When you watch the video, you’ll completely understand what I mean by building “a long rope,” and how easy it is to actually do it!

Loop scheduling: how we ensure family culture and our “gentle feast”

Each day, we spend a chunk of time learning together. Our mornings always include Bible time, hymn/folk/foreign song singing, and Bible memory… and we loop through other subjects. Right now, we loop through habit training, poet/poetry study, etiquette, fables, composer/music study, and art/artist study.

Yesterday morning, we talked about the etiquette of making others feel welcome— through simple acts like smiling, waving, saying hello, and introducing ourselves well to new people we meet.

We practiced hellos and introductions… and then made tasty smiles, just to be funny. 😂

Days don’t hold enough time to do all.the.things. Incorporating a loop schedule in our morning together time gives me the assurance that we will slowly and surely cover things that are important to the “gentle feast” I want to offer to my children, as well as foster a family culture that (I hope 🙏🏻) will have a lasting impact.

What’s important to you and your family culture that you weave into your days?

A Handicraft Halloween Guide

With October in full force, Halloween will be here before you know it! We typically do more fall-themed things in general vs. “Halloween specific,” but it is fun to pull out a couple of specifically themed things for this month.

If you have it, that is…

The only Halloween decor we have is the leftover spider rings and webs from my son’s arachnid-themed party last week, ha!

Instead of going out and buying things, it is a perfect time to apply those handicraft skills, both in ourselves (hi there, Mother Culture, looking at you!) and for our kids.

I wanted to take a moment to compile some themed ideas for the 31st that– in my opinion– harken to some of the “authentic” handicrafts that most Charlotte Masony people recognize… versus toilet paper holder Frankenstein construction paper projects. (Note: if you like those, do those! No judgement here, I promise!)

Anyhoo, let’s get started!

Cross Stitch

I love several of the different cross stitch ideas that open when you click the pic below! What’s great is there are several simpler ideas for those kiddos, like mine, who are still learning the basics of stitching.

Origami/Paper folding

If you are familiar with tradition Charlotte Mason handicrafts, you know that she advocated teaching/learning “paper sloyd.” Paper sloyd uses simple tools to measure, cut, and construct things from paper and cardboard.

Origami captures the same spirit without the cutting… and if you currently have several books going at once, you will need just as many bookmarks. These cut little bats are just the thing to add some enchantment in an unexpected place— your page corners.

Click the image to snag the instructions. (This instruction will be true for each handicraft, btw.)

Sewing

Isn’t this garland just so cute?! The Etsy shop that offers the patterns for this banner has so many other cute ideas for decor, too. The best thing for me is that you don’t have to use them on a garland if you don’t want to. They can act as little ornaments, or can simply be made into palm sized toys for play. So fun!

Carving

When most Mason families talk about carving and handicrafts, they mean wood… but aren’t pumpkin just perfect for practicing these basics? I think so! Tackle a big pumpkin or lots of small ones!

Painting

Just like pumpkins are great to carve, they can also make pretty awesome canvases to practice painting skills on. In fact, I have fond memories of my living room when I was little, being covered in painted pumpkins. My grandfather had a fruit and vegetable stand, and during this season, my parents would hand paint hundreds of pumpkins for people to buy from him at his stand! It’s one of those things that you didn’t realize at the time would be one of those nostalgic memories that would make you smile in remembrance decades later.

I’ve included a dual carved/painted idea here, but the sky is the limit: characters, landscapes… whatever floats your boat! (I think an Edgar Allan Poe pumpkin would be fun, surrounded by smaller raven and black cat pumpkins!)

Crochet

For those kiddos (or mommas!) learning and practicing the skill of crochet, these little imaginative play puppets looks so cute! They would be fantastic to pull in for narration after some seasonal read alouds! The best part is, the pattern for these puppets are free! Just access by clicking the photo below.

Baking & Decorating

Obviously baking and decorating are two different skills, but I’m lumping them together here because they cross apply so often. For beginning bakers who might not be ready for piping, etc., this pumpkin sheet cake is easy to make and would make a fun addition to any poetry tea time!

The recipe linked below is all about making this cake from scratch… but I’m assuming that if you are more of the pre-fab boxed cake type, you can simplify it a smidgen. However, I think this cake offers perfect practice for more advanced/fine piping! Check out the intricacy of the spider web! So cool!

Other options (aka Non-handicraft, ha!)

As much as I love handicrafts, I will fully admit to not having them work so well for younger kiddos. I have a 3 year old that doesn’t have the fine motor skills to truly attempt to decorate cakes or sew a stuffie… but she simply loves to color and hang up her pictures on the string on the wall down our hall.

If you can’t quite squeeze a new handicraft in before Halloween (or simply like to color during read alouds), no worries! Click on the button below to download and print 2 free Halloween pictures for those in your house to color.

If you are wanting even more sheets, or even want to print your own coloring book, head over to my Etsy shop and snag 50 pages of print outs for you to use! It’s normally $2.50, but use this coupon code and get another 15% off. 🙂

Here’s to weaving in imagination and enjoyment into all of the education and encouragement we plan and do with our families this month!

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For more Halloween-inspired fun, including school day plans, check out the links below!

The gift of handicrafts. Literally.

Charlotte Mason once said, “The child is only truly educated who can use his hands as truly as his head.”

I will admit: as an adult, there have been many times that I have felt handicapped… not by my lack of knowledge (because I know how to get more of it if I need it), but my lack of skills. I wish I was more “handy,” and find the learning curve a bit harsh at times. (Leaky roof and broken fence, looking at you.)

Right now, I feel it’s so important to teach my children 1) handicrafts (skills that merge both beauty and usefulness) and 2) that generosity and gift giving isn’t just about using money to buy stuff.

When E (my 8yo girlie) began talking about Christmas, we sat down and talked about the gift of creating… and she has decided to put her growing skills in hand sewing and loom knitting to work to make things for her brother and sister (like we read about in Elin’s America).

And together, we are learning the process of scenting and designing goat milk soap with essential oils, mica powders, and flowers.

One day, I’d love to actually learn the processing of making and curing soap from scratch, but the chemicals and storing for the entire process isn’t something we can do right now.

So here is to learning and creating what we can, without waiting for all.the.things to be perfect to do so.

(What do you know… another life lesson. 😉)

Here is the Orange Juniper Goat milk soap we made!

(To see what we used for the soaps, go here, here, and here. 😀 I’m obligated to say that these are referral links, which means our family gets a small smidgen of a boost to our budget if you use them. There is no additional cost to you at all, though. So yay!

Note: the mica powders and essential oils I already had on hand from other projects and needs. Also note… we got the 2lb soap base because I didn’t know how much each bar would make, and how much we would want to do it. We will probably order a 5lb bulk next, to reduce the cost of making it per bar and to give more as gifts this Christmas.)

the holiday of everyday.

Enjoyment.

We talk about how learning (and life) should be a delight… and often we think that involves huge, elaborate plans or trips to amusement parks and Disney World.

But enjoyment displays itself so beautifully in the minor moments— in the time we take to embrace the little things.

This week was full of enjoyment for us over here! First of all, E wanted to do lots of Valentine’s day crafts– too many for one day. So, we spread them out and did one a day while doing our reading and morning time. Insert mornings of valentine heart paper chains and paper hearts and homemade heart poptarts and valentine making… all leading up to “I love you” fondue-– our yearly Valentine’s day tradition.

homemade raspberry jam pop tarts. warning: lots of flour went everywhere during the making of these 3 hearts. hahaha!

I don’t know about your kiddos but mine like small bites, sticks, and dip… so “I love you” fondue has been and continues to be a hit. I mean, sure, some strawberries were lost in the pot of chocolate… and the toddler ate the cheese like soup… and my table looked like a Pollock painting 😂, ..but the giggles and memories and the comfort of this simple tradition brings up a spring of gratitude every year.

My best enjoyment.

BUT there was another holiday we celebrated this week, in the midst of all that brought enjoyment over here, especially to my 5 year old boy!

We celebrated National Pizza Day! (which for your future pizza-loving pleasure is February 9th. Mark it down!) It’s one of those silly random holidays that most people ignore… but man. Why ignore National Pizza Day when it would bring a day of delight to your buddy?

For breakfast? We used hashbrown patties as a base, used gravy as a sauce, added cheese, and used cut up bacon as “pepperoni.”

For lunch? We used homemade pitas, spaghetti sauce, and cheese and made our own little pizzas “lunchables.”

For dinner? You guessed it. This time, we ordered pizza. (Which we rarely do.)

J, my buddy, was in HEAVEN all day long! (And no worries– the pizza was rounded out by lots of cut-up veggies, fresh fruit, lalalala. 😂)

If I wanted to take it a step further into it’s own educational celebration of pizza, we could have delved into the origins of pizza, variations of pizza by location (in Europe and/or in the US), how to divide a pizza into fractions, etc., etc. So many things you can do!

Maybe next year.

This year, we just had fun eating more pizza(ish) foods in a day than we do all month. 😂

Having each day be a holiday would be a bit much, I think. BUT making more days holidays than we currently do would be a delight.

In case you are wanting to add some more holiday fun and enjoyment into this month, let me drop some lesser-known holidays down below.

Feb 15MondayGumdrop Day
Feb 16TuesdayDo a Grouch a Favor Day
Feb 17WednesdayRandom Act of Kindness Day
Feb 18ThursdayBattery Day
Feb 19FridayChocolate Mint Day
Feb 22MondaySingle Tasking Day
Feb 22MondayBe Humble Day
Feb 23TuesdayInternational Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day
Feb 24WednesdayTortilla Chip Day
Feb 26FridayPistachio Day
Feb 26FridayTell a Fairy Tale Day
Feb 27SaturdayInternational Polar Bear Day
Feb 27SaturdayNo Brainer Day
Feb 27SaturdayWorld Sword Swallowers Day
Feb 28SundayPublic Sleeping Day
taken from https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/fun/

I’m eyeballing “Random Act of Kindness,” “Chocolate Mint,” “Tortilla Chip” and “Tell a Fairy Tale” Day. In fact, I have a brand new fairy-tale themed game that would be perfect to whip out for telling any fairy tales!

I’ll leave off with a quotation from Julie Bogart, the author of The Brave Learner. She talks soooo much about enchantment and celebration: “Enchanted education and living are all about small surprises of happy—scattered, littered, peppered throughout garden-variety days.”

What surprises will you scatter in your week today– for your kids AND for you?

The Big Four

Imagine: When this crossed my feed, I instantly fell in LOVE! Kelli, at well_oiled_farmhouse did a collaborative embroidery piece with her daughters that turned out just GORGEOUS! What a great way to be creative and create a memory, a story, AND a beautiful piece of textile art!

Encourage: I love this post by give.them.beauty on Instagram about having faith while we are waiting lessons and knowledge to grow. (Also, love that she connects this to sourdough starter/bread!)

Educate: One tool that I love for my own personal development, as well as for learning over here is my subscription to Scribd. I know that there are other free services (Hoopla, looking at you), but Scribd has a TON more bestsellers and audio options on there than what I find on the free services. We currently use Scribd for two of our school read alouds, and I play audiobooks from it while we are in the car. There’s a super delightful audiobook of a collection of stories by Julia Donaldson (author of the Gruffalo, etc.). They have fun sung narrations after each story, and the reader is fantastic. (I tend to be super picky about readers and can argue with them in my head about how they interpreted a line or character, ha!) If you have Scribd, include the stories in read aloud time… and if you don’t have Scribd, take a look at it. You might find it super helpful! (Get a free 60 days trial if you use my link!) If you have Audible or just want to check out the recording I’m talking about, here’s a pic to help find the right one. 😉

Enjoy: This tidbit adds to what we were talking about above, but let me tell you about what we did just the morning. Our family is down to one car right now (a LONG story that includes a windstorm that felled a tree on our SUV and other odd circumstances), so we all load up to take my husband to work OR stay at home all day long. Most days, the husband takes the car and we just stay home, because pandemic. Today, we have music lessons in the afternoon, so I need the car today. It’s been raining for 40 days and 40 nights over here (#jokingnotjoking), and this morning was the first in FOREVER that the sun actually shined. The kids immediately began BEGGING to go to all the parks within a 50 mile radius since it was sunny and we actually could go somewhere. However, it is hovering at freezing, and there is standing water everywhere. In other words, we can’t go to the park.

So what did we do instead? Something we never do.

I went through a drive thru, and ordered 3 different kinds of breakfast biscuits and some hashbrowns. We went home, where I made a charcuterie board of it all, along with cut up fruit, and we had a breakfast tasting. The kids ranked their favorite sandwiches and we put juice in tea cups. Mood lifted.

Now, excuse me as I go and use a hair dryer on my lawn to speed up this drying process… 😂

my thoughts on a Persuasive Pandemic

I’ve been in the world of persuasion and debate a LONG time.

I debated in high school and college. I started traveling as a debate judge and coach in grad school as a part of my teaching assistantship. I continued traveling as full-time college faculty member, and was the faculty advisor for our intercollegiate debate association. I have taught public speaking on the collegiate level— which included large units on persuasive discourse. And I have continued to teach debate in my community to high schoolers while I educate my own children, and run a business from home.

Added up, that’s going on 20 years of experience— over half of my life.  And while there are people who have definitely done debate longer and have a more impressive persuasive CV, I don’t consider myself a stranger to things such as analyzing persuasive communication and wading through research and statistics to create a perspective.

The purpose of this post isn’t to convince you that our current situation is overhyped or not being presented as dire enough.  The purpose is to get you to consider the information that you are absorbing by asking it some pretty important questions before “accepting” information as evidence of what is true.

Before we continue, a word about truth.

At the risk of sounding “postmodern” (for those who view that scary), can we all agree that NO ONE knows what the truth really is in this situation— and maybe any situation?  The experts don’t know, the law makers don’t know, the press doesn’t know.  You and I definitely don’t know.  We don’t really know how the virus works, who it will affect, why some countries are hit super hard and others aren’t.  We don’t know how long it is going to stick around.  We don’t know how many people have it, how many don’t, how long it has really been here.  We don’t know how it will affect our economy long-term… or how it will affect our own little family units.  We don’t know.

We predict, project, and speculate.  And then predict, project, and speculate some more. 

And then we all act on those predictions, projections, and speculations— you.  Your family.  Your community.  Your country.

So, I’d say it’s pretty important that we hold the information we are using to gauge our actions to a pretty high test, since it affects our actions so significantly. 

“But the statistics!,” you might be saying. “Numbers don’t lie!,” you might argue.

Oh, if only THAT were true.

Anyone who has worked with numbers and heard statistics regularly knows that there is always another way to crunch the numbers.  There is always another valid statistic out there that can argue the opposite of the position that is “proven” by other numbers.  Once you really start realizing how fallible numbers and the interpretation of them can be, you really start questioning how anyone can prove anything. (It goes to show you that believing a certain statistic over another contradicting one is an act of faith versus one of logic in a lot of instances.  But that’s another post for another time.)

To paraphrase, lots of people have the pretense of knowledge— but we are lacking in actual wisdom.

With that, let’s me jump into some pretty important questions you should be asking to any post, article, news story, graph, chart, etc., that you are seeing right now.

  1. Who is telling me this information, and what do they profit by giving it to me? 
  2. Is the information being presented ethically?

The answers to these questions are telling, and should affect how much “space” you give these sources in your head and in your decision-making.

First, who is telling me this information and what do they profit?

This lesson is one of the first ones I teach when I start teaching my students how to find and use evidence. If the source you are drawing from profits from you believing their information— in power or money— you should take their data with a pretty big grain of salt.

Does this mean that they will be inaccurate and that the information is always false?  Not necessarily. But the more that they profit, the more you should question the accuracy.  The bigger the profit gain or loss, the bigger the incentive to coerce information to their perspective.  Ask yourself if other, less-biased sources have similar findings.  

Something to consider is that, in times of crisis, both the mainstream press and the political arena are good at profiting off of extremes— making something seem way worse or way better than it is.  Why?  Because extremes grab exposure.  Headlines never say, “Nothing to see here.”  There is both power and money in widespread capturing of people’s attention.  We have seen this time and time again.  

A question to ask would be, is this happening now?

Who are you getting the most of your information from?  How much of the information are they actually giving you?  Do they give you a few soundbites, and spend the rest of the time interpreting parts of the whole?  What is the purpose of their message?

What emotional, versus logical, response is it asking you to have?

That leads us to our second main question.

Is the information being presented ethically? 

Your follow up question might be, “how would I know?”  If the article is asking for an emotional response over a logical one I mentioned above, that is a pretty big giveaway.  

If a story, etc., is laced with emotionally-charged language, little red flags should be going off.  Unless it is labeled as an opinion piece or a human interest story, we should see be seeing denotative language over connotative.  

The source definitely should not be employing questionable propaganda tactics to lead their audience to a polarizing “us vs. them” conclusion by the end of their article.  

As a small tangent, let’s talk a second about propaganda.  Propaganda itself isn’t a bad thing.  It’s neutral.  You can use it for bad or for good— but it IS a PERSUASIVE tool, not an informative one.  Also, there are many types of propaganda, but two are universally seen as unethical, although many are neutral.  Those two questionable kinds are name calling and card stacking.  

Name calling is intentional use of offensive names or language to win an argument.  Card stacking is a purposeful manipulation of the audience perception of an issue by emphasizing one side and repressing another.  

Both of these can be outright or implied, but if they are in an article, you should definitely begin to question the legitimacy of the message they are asking you to accept.

How do we apply this in this situation?

Does a news source you are reading call— or even imply— that anyone that disagrees with it is absurd or immoral in some way? Are they purposefully repressing and disregarding anyone that might think differently?

I *know* I have seen these tactics from both sides over the past week or two.  People even suggest that society should open up soon, and they are cast as money-grubbers, willing to sacrifice the elderly on the alter of our economy.  On the opposite side, people who are advocating for shelter-in-place or more stringent social distancing are portrayed as weaklings who are willing to rip up our rights as Americans and gladly become a communist country.

I would like to say that my language in the above paragraph is exaggerated for dramatic effect, but I’ve basically read those very words recently. I have seen them implied WAY more— not just in the comment sections of people’s posts— but by people and entities that are supposed to be representing facts.  

Those sources cannot claim to be unbiased in their reporting while simultaneously using questionable propaganda techniques to help support their conclusions.  But they are.

What’s worse? These articles are being shared. And shared. And shared again.

There’s one more facet to this “ethics” question that I’m going to mention here.

Let’s go back to debate. 

While making and arguing cases and points, good debaters use a lot of evidence.  Some of it can get deep and honestly, hard to listen and process— which can be a problem when you are wanting a judge to understand your point at one listening.  So, debaters do this thing called “tagging evidence.”  Basically, it’s a one sentence summary of what the judge can expect to hear in the evidence coming up.  Think of it like the evidence’s thesis statement, if you will.

Now, here’s the thing.  Some debaters want the judge to believe something, but can’t quite find the data to prove exactly what they want the judge to believe.  So, they will mis-tag the evidence, with the hope that the judge will write down and accept the tag without actually analyzing the data in the evidence itself.  It’s definitely a no-no in debate, and the other side can call out the misidentification and call into question the ethos of the team using those tactics.

So why risk this credibility blow?

Because a lot of times, it isn’t caught by the opposing team or the judge.  The team gets away with it and might even win the round because of it.  

What is very frustrating to me is that I see this “mis-tagging” happening over and over and over in news articles.  The titles of the articles have this attention-grabbing “fact” in it… but when you click the article and read it?  You find the information in many articles don’t actually say what the title suggested it should.  You realize that the article includes disclaimers and details that neutralize the sensationalism that the headline suggests.  

We don’t realize that right now, we are in the middle of a huge debate round as well as pandemic. We are the judges, listening to evidence come at us in such uncomfortable speeds by people who want us to believe them, that we just remember the “tags,” and don’t have time to dive deep into the details of all the information being shared with us.  So, we use the tags to convince us, one way or the other, of which side to believe. 

And ultimately, which side to act on.

There’s so much more I actually want to say, but heavens.  This post is already a novel. 

We are living in a time where it is easy to grow fear— of the unknown or of a virus or of losing jobs and freedoms.  Our fear actually makes it harder to analyze what we are reading and hearing, but it is more important now than ever.

I’ll be honest. I’m tempted to fear. I don’t like it when experts contradict and stats aren’t consistent, and logic isn’t easy, and people resort to name calling and card stacking to get points across. 

I don’t like knowing the truth about everything that is happening, either.

But I keep coming back to some bigger truths that sooth my soul, even when nothing else makes sense.  My faith grows clearer when facts become more elusive.

I know that I’m not supposed to have a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.

Making sure that I’m reading and sharing things that are as factual, unbiased, and not needlessly creating fear is doing my part in having “a sound mind” in the middle of a restless world.

At the end of the day, I ultimately know that there is One who knows the truth about all of this.  About all of everything.  

And that belief in the midst of crazy provides the soundest mind of all.