In the first part of the year my students and I discuss what truth is, how we can navigate through the flood of rhetoric and persuasion we are exposed to every day. We read the diary entries of the British explorer Henry Stanley and the King of the Congo Mojimba’s very different interpretations of the very same meeting/ confrontation in the 1870s with very deadly consequences. We examine maps and projections, even dictionaries, lifting the mask of “truth,” and discovering insidious hidden points of view beneath. We also look at the abundance of political rhetoric and how truth can be manipulated, how feelings and agendas can seem to trump evidence in political discourse.
I share an extended excerpt of the Horace Miner Nacirema piece that was first published in 1956, where our own culture is described as if it were observed by an alien from another planet. We discuss the filters we wear which alter what we see as truth. One of their assignments is to create a piece based on some recognizable behavior but see it with fresh and unfiltered eyes, as if they have no idea or a very misguided one about what that behavior is. We also talk about how in the terminology we use we can further make something seem truthful using purported data and dates and academic words.
What is truth for an adolescent? It mostly lies in their external world and the validation they receive from others, their feelings about the status and standing they hold with their peers. I work to move the center of that truth inside their own persons, away from the fray, and independently grounded. As they trip all over themselves in their search to discover their own identities, they are left with the jigsawed and sharp slivers and pieces that hopefully– eventually– fit more neatly together into a semblance of wholeness.
I work to keep heads above water in this journey, to keep some consciousness about choices and directions, to empower self-awareness in the face of chaotic noise. As they are better able to discern the machinations of truth in the clutter of information around them, they are better able to find their own unique authentic centers. Sometimes, however, the best we can do is offer each other a life jacket.