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In the mid-1960s, Dr Martin Luther King Jr suggested that the primary goal of education ought to be two things: teaching students to think deeply, and to think with discernment. These two essential ingredients, he argued, were the key to building both intelligence and character.[1] Beyond this, Dr King knew that these skills were the antidote to the biases and bigotry fuelling the racism of America at the time.

Fast forward 60 years, to the first month of 2021, and the danger of ignorance is again painfully clear. The last year has brought us the chaos of misinformation more than any other year before. The media information surrounding COVID alone brought dozens of conflicting messages, all of them amplified within a context of panic in which even officials struggled to effectively deal with this unprecedented issue.

This year, more than any, we have seen the power of fake news. Politics, climate change, public scandals and the virus which has overwhelmed our year, have revealed a vulnerability in society’s ways of consuming news and information.

My colleague and friend Claire Madden suggests that students today are increasingly ‘brokers of information’ not ‘knowers of content’.[1] This is an important distinction and a dangerous trend as it means students are often very willing to propagate information without discerning its veracity or accuracy. This trend in young people carries just as easily to older generations whose engagement on digital platforms also leaves them vulnerable to misinformation.

In a world of fake news, alternative facts and conspiracy theories, in which each individual learns and shares information on complex and powerful digital platforms, this trend reaches new levels of danger. The ability to discern fact from fiction is fundamental.