“And any fool knows a dog needs a home,
A shelter from pigs on the wing.” — Roger Waters
Goodness knows I’m no expert in elementary education. My mother taught third grade for over thirty years. I remember helping her put up bulletin boards with the planets (all nine of them) in order and the occasional dinosaur themed bulletin board as well. That hardly makes me an expert, but experts seem to come cheaply nowadays.
The problem reared its ugly head when I became an elementary school counselor for three years. Suddenly, teachers were looking to me for advice on how to help students learn how to read. I taught English III for two years and social studies for the other nine or ten. Somehow, I didn’t seem to be able to get across that I was the last person they should ask.
We bring this up because I know that reviewing the difference between facts and opinions is taught sometime in elementary school. I couldn’t tell you what grade it happens in, but I know it happens. At least, I know that it is supposed to happen. With the proliferation of silly conspiracy theories, misinformation, and good old-fashioned bullshit it’s a wonder if we were ever taught at all.
Google and Facebook are powerful companies and powerful media hubs with algorithms designed to engage you and probably get you to buy stuff. I have a Google phone, so occasionally I go down the rabbit hole and look at the stories it feeds me. There’s the usual click bait stuff about a famous actor dying and then you wind up in ad for a new mattress or blender. They also love to flood my feed with Dear Abby, Ask Amy, or Ask Annie, or any of the other advice columns. Perhaps I should be worried that Google thinks I need this much advice.
I stumbled across two different Ask Amy’s and accidentally read them in the wrong order. The first lambasted her for offering her political opinion in these trying times. Without reading the initial letter, I simply tossed it aside and went on. Later that night, I read the initial letter. Amy was advising a poor woman to see what conspiracy theories her fiancé’ bought into before saying “I do.” Somehow, this qualified as a political opinion.
I certainly will grant that this topic is more complicated than what we learned in elementary school, but it’s not that much more complicated. Facts are facts and opinions are opinions. Holding these conspiracy theories as a legitimate political ideology is technically an opinion. However, it is an opinion that is based on things that can clearly be proven false. That’s where we are at these days.
We have people uttering falsehoods and then defending themselves that this is just their opinion. This has always happened. There are flat earth truthers out there and you just want to pat them on the head. So, this phenomenon is not new or novel. What is new is that somehow some of these folks have managed to forge an ideology around their alternative facts.
We’ve always managed to compartmentalize this before. Someone like Amy could make a blanket statement that these opinions are kooky and have it not register as a political shot across the bow. While it technically is not a fact that the opinions are kooky, it used to be widely accepted as fact. When opinions are based on alternative facts they are not really acceptable opinions.
Calling the vaccine unsafe is not an opinion. Calling it a government conspiracy is not an opinion. Saying that masks cause more physical harm than good is not an opinion. They are just statements that have no basis in fact. So, they are the equivalent of a mad man shouting gibberish on the side of the road. If uttering these things is allowed to be folded into an established ideology then we are lost. Let’s go back to basics. Saying the sky is pretty is an opinion. Saying the sky is green is not an opinion. We can’t allow people to form an acceptable political doctrine around such nonsense.