As part of a continuing discussion on the myths and truths surrounding Common, this piece seeks to shed light on the standards’ “informational text” guidelines, along with questions and concerns that have surfaced around them.
Question: Do the Common Core English standards replace literature with “informational texts”? If so, what’s the replacement ratio?
Answer: Yes. The standards discuss “informational texts” and ratio of replacement on page five of the downloadable standards. Informational texts for grades K-5 are defined as “biographies and autobiographies; books about history, social studies, science, and the arts; technical texts, including directions, forms, and information displayed in graphs, charts, or maps; and digital sources on a range of topics” (page 31). For grades 6-12, an informational text includes “subgenres of exposition, argument, and functional text in the form of personal essays, speeches, opinion pieces, essays about art or literature, biographies, memoirs, journalism, and historical, scientific, technical, or economic accounts (including digital sources) written for a broad audience” (page 57).
As to the ratio of fictional to nonfictional text: the standards don’t give an explicit number, but say the “follow NAEP’s (National Assessment Governing Board) lead in balancing the reading of literature with the reading of informational texts,” in grades K-5, thus assuming about a 50-50 ratio. In later grades, they “demand that a significant amount of reading of informational texts take place in and outside the ELA classroom.” “Significant,” according to the 2009 NAEP Reading Framework (pictured below), would be somewhere around 55 and 70 percent for grades 8 and 12. They admit that fulfilling these standards requires “much greater attention to a specific category of informational text—literary nonfiction—than has been traditional.” They do note that “the ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama, and poetry) as well as literary nonfiction,” and thus much of the required informational reading “must take place in other classes if the NAEP assessment framework is to be matched instructionally.
Note: these English standards don’t just apply to English classes. They also contain guidelines for teaching literacy in history and social studies classes, science class, and in “technical subjects.” In the above passage, the Common Core authors admit that English classrooms “must focus on literature” and literary nonfiction (often described as “creative nonfiction” or “literary journalism”). From this wording, it would appear that informational texts are meant to be most emphasized in the other aforementioned classes. And indeed, most history classes are meant to focus on informational texts.
Thus, it seems that the precise ratio of fiction to nonfiction implemented in the English classroom is still up to the teacher. There may be a greater emphasis on nonfiction than before, but the type of nonfiction selected is also dependent on the teacher’s choice. If he or she wants to introduce students to Charles Dickens’ journalistic accounts of London, the standards would allow for that.
Question: Will this become an opportunity for leftist propaganda to infiltrate schools?
Answer: Maybe—that entirely depends on the teacher and curriculum. Read More…
Thoughtful commenters on last week’s “Fact and Fiction at CPAC Common Core Panel” expressed some disappointment with the piece’s lack of in-depth analysis. I hope to respond to these concerns, and provide greater information on the “fact and fiction” surrounding Common Core. Unfortunately, it will take (a lot) more than 500 words. This article looks specifically at questions and concerns over student privacy with the new standards.
Question: Do the Common Core State Standards encourage or require government data mining of students’ personal information?
Answer: Not directly. The real culprit, it seems, lies with federal dollars given to states—take Obama’s Race to the Top: an initiative that gave federal dollars to states in exchange for their commitment to “four key areas of reform.” Though the reforms never reference the Common Core by name, Race to the Top called for “development of rigorous standards and better assessments.” It also required “Adoption of better data systems to provide schools, teachers, and parents with information about student progress” (this is where concern over data mining comes in).
Also, the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) offered stimulus money to governors in 2009 for state education. SFSF money came with a very specific set of qualifications for states: it doesn’t reference Common Core by name, either, but required that states “progress toward rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable for all students.” Its second qualification, though, has many parents up in arms: “The state must assure that it will take actions to … establish and use pre-K-through-college and career data systems to track progress and foster continuous improvement.”
In sum, SFSF told states it has to track the students’ educational progression from preschool through college, and even beyond.
The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is leading the actual data-collection effort on the ground. This is where things get interesting, and why many people are grouping Common Core with the data mining effort: CCSSO is co-holder of the Common Core Standards copyright. They’re developing a system of “statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDSs),” that will track students from pre-K through college (and career).
What data does CCSSO intend to gather via SLDSs? In 2010, the National Center for Education Statistics released a technical brief titled “Guidance for Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS),” with a little information on the sort of data they’re likely to include: student’s name, name of parents or family members, address of his/her family, a personal identifier (like a SSN, student number, or biometric record), and “indirect identifiers” such as a date of birth, place of birth, or mother’s maiden name. Read More…
Douglas Hine wrote a wonderful piece at Aeon Magazine Thursday on information and its purpose:
Information is perhaps the rawest material in the process out of which we arrive at meaning: an undifferentiated stream of sense and nonsense in which we go fishing for facts. But the journey from information to meaning involves more than simply filtering the signal from the noise. It is an alchemical transformation, always surprising. It takes skill, time and effort, practice and patience. No matter how experienced we become, success cannot be guaranteed. In most human societies, there have been specialists in this skill, yet it can never be the monopoly of experts, for it is also a very basic, deeply human activity, essential to our survival. If boredom has become a sickness in modern societies, this is because the knack of finding meaning is harder to come by.
Hine is absolutely right: information is not just an end. It should, first and foremost, be a means to meaning. In all our interactions and work online, we must ask the question: “What is this for?” Additionally, we must consider whether such purpose would be better achieved via a different medium.
Take Facebook: we may use it to connect with friends. That’s our “for,” our purpose. But are there times when such connection is better suited to an email, phone call, or Skype conversation? Absolutely. Consider Twitter: it’s a great tool for searching the news. But why do we read the news—for meaningless data? No, we seek out news to give meaning and context to our lives. Are there times when Twitter prevents us from creating such meaning? Yes.
But obviously, determining that Facebook is for relationship and Twitter is for contextual growth brings up larger questions of meaning: What sort of friendships should we cultivate? Why should we cultivate friendship? What is the undergirding context of life? Why is news important in the first place? The deeper we plunge into questions of meaning, the further we progress from technological jargon toward philosophical questions. This is what Hine’s piece illustrates: “The journey from information to meaning involves more than simply filtering the signal from the noise. It is an alchemical transformation, always surprising. It takes skill, time and effort, practice and patience.”
In the late onslaught of encouragement to be more “mindful” in our digital and material lives, I’m still just wondering what mindfulness means—or should mean, at any rate. Read More…
Concerns expressed at CPAC’s “Common Core, Choice, and Accountability” forum are much touted in conservative debate: there is widespread fear that Common Core is a guise for the centralization of education. What was thrown into sharp relief at the panel was the great growth of this viewpoint amongst conservatives, tea partiers, and libertarians at the grassroots level.
Panelists worried mainly about the centralization of standards (and how that will affect curricula), the widely protested promotion of informational texts in English classes, and the gathering of student information, supposedly tracking kids through the entirety of their school and college education (Phyllis Schlafly, Founder of Eagle Forum, compared this to George Orwell’s 1984).
Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke was the panel’s moderator. She said Common Core’s supporters in the conservative party are “well-intentioned,” but added that the standards have been “heavily incentivized by the Obama administration,” and are “setting us on a course for national curriculum.”
Schlafly said this issue has gained a lot of steam on the local level: “The moms are coming out of the woodwork on this issue.” She warned against the Common Core English Standards’ new emphasis on informational texts: “informational reading morphs into liberal propaganda,” she said, pointing to the College Board’s new “Spring Board” curricula as an example.
Robert Enlow, President of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, called Common Core “yet another mechanism by which those who think they know more can tell parents what to do.” Jim Stergios, Executive Director of Pioneer Institute, denied that the initiatives are truly state-led, calling it “a remarkable claim.” He pointed to Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, and the strong incentives (in the form of grants and waivers) offered to those who adopted Common Core. He believes these incentives were, in actuality, arm-twisting bribes and blackmail. “There are friends among us who say this is truly conservative. That is ludicrous,” he said.
Stergios also criticized the standards’ emphasis on informational texts: “Reading between the lines of literature teaches kids about meaning,” he said, adding that it teaches important lessons on irony and nuance. “When’s the last time you read a textbook and laughed?”
The panelists received a strong and passionate reception from their audience. There were several Tea Partiers and mothers in attendance, all of whom expressed strong agreement with Schlafly’s points. One mother expressed great fear over Common Core, and what it may encourage in the future.
Unfortunately, many of her fears may not be grounded. Common Core is a creature touted and rebuked across party lines, and myths cluster around it like a deep fog. The panelists expressed some realistic concerns with Common Core—but their rhetoric was perhaps too strong on certain points. One of the reasons Common Core has become the “most heated debate over education,” as Burke put it, may lie at the fault of such rhetoric. There is need for more “informational texts” on Common Core itself, before the debate can achieve any real lucidity.
Gentrification has consequences, as Ed Leibowitz’s Wednesday piece in Politico Magazine makes clear. Los Angeles is notorious for its rampant homelessness problems, and Skid Row was one of its most prominent corners of poverty, “an economic black hole in the middle of the city, where the helpless and hopeless washed up and would remain, very much out of sight and out of mind.” But as an urban boom has swept the U.S. in the past decade, things are changing:
… for several decades, the only signs of commercial life along this stretch of Main Street were dive bars, grimy convenience stores and gritty “single-room occupancy” hotels, home to the poorest of the city’s poor. Yet today the sidewalks bustle outside shops selling vegan cinnamon ice cream, $50 bottles of Rioja, artisanal cupcakes and those designer products for one’s pooch. Hipsters with beards worthy of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg emerge from lobbies of restored loft buildings where a two-bedroom apartment can go for as much as $3,000 a month … Skid Row, the homeless capital of the United States, is going upscale.
Where will the homeless go if Skid Row becomes an expensive hipsterville? This is a key question in Leibowitz’s story. He points to several efforts by non-profits and government agencies to procure housing for the homeless. Yet their efforts are often expensive—consider Gateway Apartments, a new $28 million housing complex just opened for the homeless. Leibowitz says its units “look like dorm rooms for college students who have won the campus housing lottery.” Homeless applicants must be chosen from a pool of applicants to live here. Is this better than procuring cheaper housing for a greater amount of people? Will Gateway housing be permanent, or do organizers intend to eventually cycle out current tenants to make room for more? How do they fairly judge which homeless people are “worthy” of housing?
Alice Callahan, director of Las Familias Del Pueblo in Los Angeles, has some of these concerns: ”We’re just choosing this homeless person over that homeless person, and we are saying the other one will stay on the sidewalk because we’re not offering them anything,” she tells Leibowitz. Callahan has helped numerous homeless procure cheap housing through her efforts. She sees a finite amount of housing available, and 5,000 Skid Row inhabitants who need a home.
In his excellent piece ”The Answer to Homelessness,” published in the March/April edition of TAC’s magazine, John Stoehr reported on Utah’s efforts to help the homeless—an initiative many conservatives are applauding due to its considerable success. Although the state gives away free housing, it’s still saving money: “When Utah officials added up the amount going into medical treatment and law enforcement, the cost to the state per homeless individual was more than $216,300 a year in 2007 dollars, according to Housing Works. The cost of housing, rent assistance, and full-time case management, meanwhile, was just $19,500.”
The state has decreased homelessness by 74 percent, and has saved money in the process. The problem, however, is that Utah is currently targeting a homeless population of 3,000 statewide—Skid Row alone has 5,000 homeless residents. Additionally, housing in Utah is likely to be cheaper overall than housing in Los Angeles. Nonetheless: there ought to be ways in which L.A. could imitate Utah’s efforts. By transitioning people into permanent housing, creating fair rent agreements, and offering the assistance of a full-time case worker, Utah has created a replicable model. The key, in L.A.’s case, may be figuring out logistics in a city where cheap housing is quickly diminishing.
To Callahan, the gentrification of Skid Row paints a rather callous portrait of the encroaching elites. But this urban growth needn’t become opportunity for apathy and cruelty. Much depends on the way Skid Row’s new inhabitants treat their homeless neighbors. While some may desire to push out the homeless, others may help support them.
“There’s a price that we are paying for homeless,” Sam Tsemberis said in 2012. “Not noticing is costing not only the people still homeless on the streets but it’s costing us. If we take for granted the feeling of seeing a homeless person and walking by, we have to shut down part of ourselves in order to tolerate the pain we’re walking past.”
Urban growth in L.A. is good—but the plight of the homeless mustn’t be ignored in its wake. Such disinterest doesn’t just affect the homeless: it has detrimental consequences for the elites, as well.
James McWilliams wrote an interesting but disappointing piece on exercise addiction last week. The piece shows how engrossing—and potentially damaging—the sport of running can be:
Potentially addicted runners will cheat family time to run, sneak in runs without telling people, design vacations around exercise opportunities, will (if injured) count the days since their last run like an alcoholic counts the days since his last drink, and forgo sex to run (we often joke that nobody spends a Saturday morning running 20 miles because they have a great sex life). It seems certain that, if these symptoms are in any way common, running addiction will become an official disorder in due time.
Yet, in conclusion, McWilliams decides that perhaps these obsessed runners aren’t wrong, or even disordered—rather, they’re in tune with the physicality enjoyed by “pre-industrial people,” our ancestors who would not have been as inactive as modern Americans. “What if the real addicts are those who seek to be sedentary,” he asks, “While the crazed athletes are the ones who are seeking the deeper wisdom and capacity of the human body?”
McWilliams has a point here. American’s desk-bound, inert lives are rather abnormal and harmful to the human body. New research shows that commuting alone can promote higher cholesterol, depression, anxiety, back pain, and sleep discomfort (among other symptoms). Also, as a runner, I can understand the benefits he describes: the feeling of being “at ease with the world,” the sense of accomplishment and renewed purpose with each mile.
But at the same time, the sort of exercise McWilliams advocates for—the constant 10-plus mile runs, sacrifice of time, family, and health—does not seem to foster true excellence. At least, it would not stand up to Aristotle’s concept of virtue, which functions as a mean between excess and defect. Aristotelian virtue does not consist in obsession to the point of bodily harm—he said a warrior who purposefully put himself in harm’s way was not courageous, but careless: he has fallen into the “excess” side of the equation, thus falling short of true virtue. Similarly, McWilliam’s crazed runner falls too much into excess to be truly virtuous.
Yet McWilliam’s runner is no stranger to us, whether we be runners or no. Most modern Americans feel compelled to develop an expertise—be it a career, hobby, or sport. The “specialist” or “expert” always receives greatest respect, while those who “dabble” in various trades or interests are less likely to garner acclaim. Indeed, in education, fields that teach breadth over depth are seeing less students and less interest. Take the humanities, or philosophy: as philosopher professor Rebecca Newberger Goldstein told the Atlantic, interest in philosophy has declined as students “want to get good jobs and get rich fast.” Money and renown goes to the specialists, not to the holistic scholars.
This isn’t meant to denigrate experts, professional athletes, and the like—most careers require a good depth of knowledge in a given subject. But it is important to consider whether we are practicing virtue in our trade, and whether we ought to “branch out” in order to become more healthy and well-rounded human beings. Perhaps the politician should pick up art (like Winston Churchill), the “foodie” should study literature, the economist should take dancing lessons. It isn’t that specialization is bad, so much as that specialization can often lead to obsession—and obsession leads to personal and societal disorder.
St. Augustine called such obsession a “disordered love.” The concept springs from his beautiful Confessions: disordered love seeks ultimate happiness in temporal, earthly objects or pursuits, “an action which engenders all kinds of pathologies in human behavior,” writes David K. Naugle.
“For wherever the soul of man may turn, unless it turns to you [God], it clasps sorrow to itself,” wrote Augustine. “Even though it clings to things of beauty, if their beauty is outside God and outside the soul, it only clings to sorrow.”
Running can be a thing of beauty. Waking early and jogging to a measured cadence, watching the sun illumine a dark sky, etching new trails in the soft earth—it’s an exhilarating, delightful sport. But if it’s all we cling to, we will ultimately become disillusioned, disordered, and unhappy—just as with any realm of love and interest. Much as I enjoy running, I never want this “thing of beauty” to become a disordered love.
North Korea’s atrocities were thrown back into the public discourse last week, after a new report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights stirred up international outcry. The report details the extent of human rights violations currently known in the country—crimes including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”
In sum, the commission says, North Korea’s crimes against humanity do not “have any parallel in the contemporary world.”
The report’s release came hand-in-hand with a Gallup poll’s revelation that Americans hate North Korea more than any other country in the world. Though Kim Jong-Un is often portrayed in a childish and almost teasing manner by American media, many are realizing this seeming childishness lends itself to an extremely brutal dictatorship.
Yet figuring out the best response to the North Korean situation is a troubling question—one without a clear or compelling answer, as of yet. For the U.S., as a South Korean (Republic of Korea, or ROK) ally, diplomacy will be tricky in days to come.
North Korea’s government could hardly be more restrictive, isolated, or ruthless. Any autonomous religious activity in the country is “now almost nonexistent; government-sponsored religious groups exist to provide an illusion of religion freedom,” says the CIA. The country’s prison camps have been compared to Nazi concentration camps: according to multiple firsthand reports from defectors, prisoners are subjected to executions, starvation, and extreme torture. In a Wednesday Telegraph piece, former prison guard Ahn Myong-Chol said “more than 90 percent” of prisoners he talked to said they had no idea why they were in the camp.
“People in the camps are not treated as human beings… They are like flies that can be crushed,” Ahn told the newspaper.
National Geographic wrote a piece about the perils facing North Korean refugees in 2009. Those who cross the border without permission may be thrown into a prison labor camp for three to five years. Conspiring to reach South Korea “is considered treason, with offenders starved, tortured, and sometimes publicly executed.” Yet China refuses to honor international agreements to treat North Koreans as refugees, maintaining instead “the defectors are illegal ‘economic migrants.’” The UN’s report has already prompted some pushback from China, according to The Telegraph:
The UN panel has warned China’s government that it might be “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity” by sending migrants and defectors back to North Korea to face torture and execution. It said that Beijing had in some cases forwarded to Pyongyang “information about the contacts and conduct” of North Korean nationals, despite knowing that they would almost certainly face torture if repatriated. China has hinted that it will use its UN security council veto to prevent the International Criminal Court indicting Kim Jong-un. However, a separate ad hoc tribunal could be convened.
Additionally, the country is experiencing rampant economic disrepair. The CIA shares some of the country’s chronic problems: industrial capital stock is “nearly beyond repair,” military spending has cut off needed resources for civilians, there are chronic food shortages due to weather and collective farming practices (amongst other systemic issues), and “industrial and power output have stagnated for years at a fraction of pre-1990 levels.”
The country’s situation is incredibly tenuous—indeed, the RAND Corporation released a report last year claiming that North Korea is a “failing state. Its government could collapse in the coming months or years, causing an immense humanitarian disaster and potentially other, even more serious consequences.” Looking at a map quickly reveals why such a collapse could have major repercussions. North Korea separates South Korea from the rest of the continent. While ROK has a strong economy at present, the dissolution of North Korea would have a variety of consequences—economic and cultural, as well as political—for its southern neighbor. Read More…
What is “mindfulness”? TIME Magazine recently released a cover story on “The Mindful Revolution,” outlining a return to conscious living emphasized by modern enthusiasts. Many in the “mindfulness” crowd want us to step away from the Internet, unplug, and take a break. But Evgeny Morozov put the trend into perspective in his article, “The Mindfulness Racket”:
If it takes an act of unplugging to figure out how to do it [“mindfulness”], let’s disconnect indeed. But let us not do it for the sake of reconnecting on the very same terms as before. We must be mindful of all this mindfulness.
Morozov’s piece considers calls to take a digital “sabbath” or “detox,” to disconnect temporarily “so that we can resume our usual activities with even more vigor upon returning to the land of distraction.” But all of this talk of disconnecting and becoming mindful begs the question: What is “mindfulness” for? Why should we be mindful, and how can we cultivate a proper mindfulness?
I would suggest that there are two types of mindfulness: one inwardly focused, the other outwardly focused. When people draw upon the terms “fasting” and “detoxing” for technology disconnections, they bring up two interesting examples of how mindfulness affects our inward and outward health.
In religious fasting, a lack of eating is not focused on dietary benefits. It is meant to be a time of focus on larger, more important things than bodily craving. In fasting, we center on the spiritual, and step away temporarily from the physical. Yet in that stepping away, we learn to appreciate the goodness of food and drink. Fasting brings us to thankfulness. We eventually return to savor the goodness of the things we left.
Detoxes focus on inward cleansing, looking inward at incongruences and junk in my own system. A “digital detox” would necessitate that, in stepping away from digital tools, one also looks inward at personal cravings and inclinations. How is digital media shaping the way we live? Is it fostering unhealthy habits within us? Have we allowed it to build callouses of anger, discrimination, or fear in our souls? Statistically speaking, Facebook is reported to foster depression in its users. We must exercise introspection toward online habits, desires, and emotions we’ve inculcated. A detox may also help us consider what we haven’t dwelt on or considered enough—a person, situation, or decision we’ve neglected in the technological mayhem.
But a digital “fast” would be a time of mindfulness toward religion, family, friends, and society. One could consider relationship priorities outside the constraints of Facebook and Twitter, even the telephone and Skype. Such a fast would prompt us to analyze the ways such tools shape societal and work interactions, and consider how they benefit (or detract from) the spiritual, soul-fostering work of relationship. This fast would, one hopes, enable the abstainer to return to his or her computer with a renewed sense of purpose and limits.
A proper understanding of human nature is vital in our consumption. We must keep our own inclinations in mind. Pride is a natural susceptibility of the human soul. In every tweet and Facebook status, our own pride will venture to the surface. We must look carefully at our motivations, and consider what sort of online (and inward) presence we’re cultivating. This is the sort of consideration that might go into a digital “detox.”
Stepping away from technology will not make us more or less mindful—just as a day of detoxing or fasting will not automatically change our perception of food. In all things, we want to cultivate Aristotle’s virtuous mean, searching for that place between excess and defect where excellence dwells. Mindfulness does not necessitate pure abstention from iPhones, Twitter, and the like—it is not about neglecting certain platforms. Rather, it defines how we use those platforms. The reason for a “fast,” “detox,” or what-have-you is to help us see the big picture, to give us greater purpose, understanding, and discretion.
Mary Jo Anderson writes about the false compassion of euthanasia in Crisis Magazine:
The truth that lies underneath the “rights” rhetoric is who will decide what constitutes a quality of life and at what cost. Theodore Dalrymple is an English doctor, psychiatrist and author of OurCulture—What’s Left of It. Dalrymple wrote, “Euthanasia has a tendency to slide from the voluntary to the compulsory, as people increasingly make judgments on behalf of others as to what is a human life worth living.”
This is a temptation that many human rights advocates can be susceptible to: in desiring to help others, we often choose to reform them into our own image. America’s compassionate conservatives often fall prey to this tendency: out of a sincere desire to help people, they seek to re-shape another person’s life or will into their own.
Anderson’s post is highlighting a new bill passed in Belgium on February 13, one that permits euthanasia for young children. “We can no longer pin a wig over the bald truth of the culture of death,” she writes. For pro-life advocates, the move smacks of the same imperative judgments that characterize so many pro-choice arguments (i.e. the mother, specifically, is allowed to decide what’s best for the child and her family).
This bill is an example of what Anderson calls “a right to die”: it’s “thought to be a compassionate, advanced policy,” giving people the ability to decide just how much pain and hardship they are willing to suffer. Of course, making such a decision necessitates we assume a sort of omniscient posture: if we decide whether life is still worth living, we must have a very specific and (we hope) accurate understanding of what life is about, what it’s worth, and how much pain we can handle.
This is how much of the right handles non-life matters. Of course, conservatives may gasp in horror at the thought of aborting or euthanizing babies. But conservatives may also look at homeless people on the street, and tell them, “You should go get a job.” Isn’t this also a case of gross assumption—of putting someone else in your shoes, and commanding them to walk according to your path, willpower, and context? When we decide one country “deserves” democracy, or another should be “liberated” from its oppressors—often such words contain grains of truth. But what we really mean is, “Let us (our military, more often than not) come over and fix your problems, so that you can be just like us.”
Religious thought contains an important truth on this subject: most believe that humans are not omniscient. We were created by Another, a Being with infinite knowledge and discernment. We did not determine our birth. For many, this truth implies that we should not determine our end: our times are in God’s hands, as the Psalmist writes in Psalm 31.
This means we cannot look at our brothers and assume we know their best life (or death) course. Jesus told the story of a tax collector and Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14—the Pharisee thanked God that he was not “like this tax collector, this sinner.” But in reality, it was the tax collector, humble and contrite, who went home justified.
When Jesus had mercy and compassion on an individual, interestingly enough, He often gave them what they asked for. There were cases in which He told people, instead, of sins they needed to leave or truths they needed to confront. But in each and every case, He loved first.
Compassion: it’s difficult to turn such an emotion into right action. So often, we are separated in thought and soul from truly knowing others. We think we know what is right or good, but this lack of omniscience makes it difficult to rightly run people’s lives. Perhaps we should not try—instead, we should just love first.
American viewers expressed outrage Sunday after NBC reporter Christin Cooper interviewed U.S. skier Bode Miller, driving him to tears with inquiries about his deceased brother. Miller tied for a Bronze medal in competition Sunday, and mentioned his brother in connection with the win. But subsequent prodding from Cooper on the subject was too much.
Twitter and other social media exploded indignantly, accusing Cooper of malicious indifference. But Miller defended the reporter Monday: “I’ve known Christin for a long time and she’s a sweetheart of a person,” he said on NBC’s Today Show. “I know she didn’t mean to push. I don’t think she really anticipated what my reaction was going to be. I think by the time she sort of realized, then I think it was too late.”
It’s kind of Miller, and sheds a compassionate light on the incident. Nonetheless, the incident should prompt journalists (and their audience) to consider the consequences of our sensationalistic reporting.
This sort of journalism is not abnormal. The media’s normal attitude toward celebrities is often just as uncouth and intrusive. Our reality shows regularly exploit the emotions of viewers by drawing on any and every tragedy experienced by its candidates. We’ve become a culture that feeds on sensationalism and misfortune: we love the underdog, the tragic hero. This often becomes a form of emotional exploitation,targeting the audience, protagonist, or people involved in the protagonist’s life. As long as a semblance of fiction or separation remains, we feel okay with this exploitation. But when a man breaks into tears, and the camera hovers in front of his bowed form, we begin to feel guilty. Yes, we—for it is our fault too, not just Christin Cooper’s. The media gives us what we want. It’s a simple case of supply and demand: Americans eat up the media’s shameless emotional pandering (usually).
Also, it’s important to note that Cooper was not the only reporter who seemed to rub pain in Miller’s face. The cameraman zoomed in on his face, and held the camera close to his grief. He wouldn’t go away. It was an inexcusable breach of propriety. If the cameraman had turned away when Miller began crying, perhaps the incident wouldn’t have been as painful. But this isn’t the only time such shameless recording has taken place in Sochi: other failed contestants, when pushed to tears, are immediately dogged by cameras. They want to see the tears fall, to capture the moment of grief for viewers at home.
When Cooper and her cameraman zoomed in on Miller’s grief, they detracted from the true story of the moment: his victory, hard work, and resilience. That should have been the focus of the interview. They ought to have adopted a more professional manner. Indeed, beyond professionalism, mere courtesy would suggest that a person, in moments of grief and pain, should be granted greater privacy.
But American audiences should also consider the role they play in shaping the news: until they demand otherwise, this sensationalism will not stop.