(#368) Fake, Illegitimate Or Incomplete Information?

June 11, 2017

Just because you find a lot of information does not mean
you have found accurate or credible information

If, as famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright claimed, “An expert is a man who stops thinking because he knows,” then can we say the same for a person who claims one source of information as the fount of all legitimacy and contrary accounts to be illegitimate or “fake”? Has she stopped discerning because she “knows” what is legitimate and what is fake?

More than five years ago, I shot a quick video (see below) outlining four basic considerations when considering information to address an issue or task?

  1. What information do you need for the task at hand?
  2. Where will you find that information?
  3. How will you evaluate the information you find for accuracy and legitimacy?
  4. How will you organize and use the information for your audience?

Can we grow as individuals if we filter what we read, hear, and see through one source (or a number of like-minded sources)?  Are we motivated to grow–or just “be right” even in the face of confounding information?

Do we care?

A friend shared two stories this week.  I doubt they are apocryphal.

  • A neighbor asked my friend where she got her news. My friend rattled off a list of seven or eight sources. Out of hand, the neighbor dismissed the entire list as thoroughly “illegitimate.” When asked what her source of information was, the neighbor mentioned one source. Just one source. It was, according to her, legitimate. End of story. (See numbers two and three, above.)
  • My friend has found the same situation in her college classroom.  No matter the topic,  two camps emerge. Diametrically opposed. Refusing to listen and discuss with the other. Each considering their source(s) of information legitimate and the others’ suspect at the least and fake at the worst.

Is this a sign of intellectual laziness? A lack of critical thinking? Or is this sort of thing nothing new—just magnified because everyone can have a social media platform where we surround ourselves with “likes” and “shares” and then block opposing viewpoints?  (I still remember my mother often warning me (more than fifty years ago) not to speak about politics or religion.) It does seem like today’s volume, as well as the personal vitriol, has been cranked up considerably.

I offered a suggestion to my friend.

  1. Pick two sources of news that generally disagree on issues and stances.
  2. Find one current news story on which both of these sources present a similar account of the issue or event.
  3. Print both stories without any attribution (nothing that would identify the sources).
  4. Ask your friend (or students) to identify the “illegitimate source” based solely on the content presented. If both stories are drawing the same conclusion then how can the argument hold that a particular source is always illegitimate?

Perhaps you could do it as well to at least start a rational conversation. Start with common ground and move from there.

Video recommendation for the week.

Just because you find information does not mean you have credible information.

Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.

For information about and to order my new book, Stories About Teaching, Learning, and Resilience: No Need to be an Island, click here.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here.

My podcasts: The Growth and Resilience Network™ (http://stevepiscitelli.com/media-broadcast/podcast).

My programs and webinars: website  (http://stevepiscitelli.com/programs/what-i-do) and (http://stevepiscitelli.com/programs/webinars).

Pearson Education publishes my student textbooks for life success—Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff? (3rd edition).

(c) 2017. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.

(#327) Structures for Organization: Implications for Teaching and Training

August 28, 2016

Just because it was tossed, doesn’t mean it was caught.
Just because it was talked, doesn’t mean it was taught.

How do you define “learning”? And, what causes it? How much of your schooling exposed you to a stream of firehosed arcane knowledge with little connection and relevance? Do you consider that learning?

One measure to consider is whether our thinking or behaviors have changed in a sustainable manner.  “Learning” isolated facts that are promptly lost after the test, is not learning.  That’s memorization.  Or as one teacher so aptly noted, such an exchange is nothing less than “bulimic education”—take it in; then spit it out. A tumble of facts in and a tumble of facts out.

Photo by Steve Piscitelli

Photo by Steve Piscitelli

Even engaging in a well-articulated conversation or debate has questionable learning value if there is no change in one’s mental mindset.

Whether we teach a classroom full of eager (and not so-eager students), orient new students to the university, train staff in our organization, or teach a young girl to play guitar, we look for some level of change. Some type of movement.

Calling it “teaching” does not mean the student experienced “learning.” Or as I’ve proffered on occasion, just because it was tossed, doesn’t mean it was caught.  Just because it was talked, doesn’t mean it was taught.

The inimitable Truman Capote reportedly said, “That isn’t writing; that’s typing.”

The spin for  me would be, “That’s not teaching; that’s talking.”

If you leave with the exact same mental model—no adjustments—then can we say anything was “learned”? Nothing has changed and there is no sustainable difference.

Ken Bain’s work What the Best College Teachers Do reminded me of a teaching and learning strategy I used with my history students.  Rather than bombard them with minutiae, I did my best to introduce them to “structures” of United States History.  Rather than memorize an endless array of isolated dates, battles, names, I helped them identify patterns. These patterns formed the structures of the course.  Here are five of the structures I used with my students:

  • Establishment of a national identity
  • Challenge to authority
  • Evolution of mass-based politics
  • Demand for minority rights
  • Evolution of governmental power and reach

Think of these structures as buckets into which information (the facts, events, and issues) of United States History can be placed.  These containers help the students to see patterns and evolution. This does not condone fuzzy teaching.  The students still need specifics to construct the whole from which to make sense of the world.

The flight attendant who just rolled her drink cart down the aisle and stopped at my seat (14C) has a structure. She did not spit back a memorized list of all items and where they were located on her cart to me. To be sure, she is well versed on the cart inventory. But she focuses on the pattern of what to do at each seat and how to fill each drink order. Imagine if she had no idea where anything was located on the cart. And at each seat, she rattled off her memorized list of every item on the cart.  Would you be impressed? Doubt it. You want a drink, not a recitation.

Then why are we so enamored with filling students’ minds (children and adults alike) with long lists of stuff that, by themselves do not help them? Why not help the person form meaningful and useful patterns?

What are the implications of focusing on patterns and structures for your workplace? Do you want your team members to remember isolated facts or would you rather they connect those facts in a meaningful pattern so they can be successful for your organization?

Do you want to teach facts or people?

Or as Ken Bain, so eloquently stated, “You don’t teach a class. You teach a student.”


Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here.

Check out my latest podcast (about ex-offenders and resilience).  You can find my podcast series at The Growth and Resilience Network (http://stevepiscitelli.com/video-media/podcasts).

Check out my website  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff?  (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.

(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.

(#252) If Politicians Had to Live the Educational Policies They Create

March 22, 2015

Let’s make the policy makers have to face, and work with, our students and teachers
day in and day out. The same ones their legislation impacts.


 A note the reader: I have written before about (a former student) Lt. Col. Michael Waltz’s book.  As I continue to read the book, the student has become the teacher.  I am drawing lessons–that go beyond the politics and realities of war. His words are poignant on multiple levels. For this week’s blog, I take a look at the problems created when policy makers have little to no connection with implementation.

I am in NO way equating my thoughts below (about teaching) to Waltz’s experiences. Totally different circumstances. BUT I do believe we can find a lesson beyond the war zone.


 In the Preface of his book WARRIOR DIPLOMAT Michael Waltz states “…how few people have a hand in crafting U.S. policy for a war and then have to go to the war zone to personally execute the strategies they advocated.” That is exactly what he had to/chose to do.  He worked in policy formation in a Washington, D.C. office, and then served on the front lines to execute the policy.

warrior diplomat

In riveting detail he writes about the frustrations of fighting to make a difference in the war effort and the lives of the Afghan people, only to be stymied by a lack of resources and/or coordinated oversight/implementation.

While Waltz’s writes about the serious issues of life, death, and survival, I could not help but draw a few parallels from his accounts to my more than three decades in the classroom.

Wouldn’t it be great if our state legislators had to carry out the policies they dictate to our teachers and students? Just think about what they would need to do because of THEIR actions in the state house. For instance, they would be:

  • shackled by testing mandates
  • hampered by the elimination of (or at the least, curtailing of) programs to help their struggling students (read: developmental education programs in higher education)
  • forced to wonder (if the 2015 Florida state legislature passes legislation currently being discussed) who is packing a gun in class and when it might come out during a discussion about a controversial issue.
  • placed in a position like some of our elementary, middle school and high school teachers, to spend from their own pockets to purchase supplies for their students.



Yes, let’s make the policy makers have to face and work with our students day in and day out. Not just a photo shoot that has a politician “being” a teacher “for a day.”  No, let’s make them teach under their restrictions for a year.  (If we really want to make it interesting, make sure they ONLY get a beginning teacher’s paycheck.)

Let the policy makers have to work with the human dimensions that each student brings into the classroom. Let them look each student in the eye–and then have to figure out how to work with that person as a person—not as a data point on an excel spreadsheet or a tagline in a political speech.

Let them handle a parent-teacher conference.

And it is not just the politicians. Business folks who think they can (should?) influence decision makers simply because they have held a focus group or two need to be placed in the position of explaining and carrying out these policies as well. On a daily basis.

We could make the same arguments as well for other callings. Healthcare professionals come to mind. They have to deal with their patients’ needs–yet have to meet political mandates that may or may not be the most effective or efficient to follow.

Waltz advocates for the soldiers having flexibility. They are on the ground seeing the day-to-day realities. Our warriors need to be able to respond on their instincts and professional training rather than waiting for a bureaucratic review process (that may take far too long for appropriate implementation to occur).

Our teachers also need to be nimble in how to best meet the educational needs of our students.  They are the professionals on the ground in our classrooms.

Video recommendation for the week:

Let’s finish with an impassioned defense for teachers by Taylor Mali.]

Make it a great week. And H.T.R.B. as needed.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. Please share it (and any of the archived posts on this site) with friends and colleagues. You also can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. If you get a chance, visit my Facebook page and join in–or start–a conversation (www.facebook.com/stevepiscitelli).  If you have suggestions for future posts, leave a comment.

Check out my website (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

Information on my book, Choices for College Success (3rd ed.), can be found at Pearson Education.

(c) 2015. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.


%d bloggers like this: