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Why we still need (and miss) gatekeepers - plus what we need to teach kids about opinions

For 12 years I wrote a column for a Bay Area newspaper called The Argus.

Like so many of the smaller papers, it went away. With it, so did my side gig.

I miss it.

I wrote hundreds of "What It Takes" columns exploring what we need to teach kids so they can live well.

Often I'd write about local people living extraordinary lives. The goal was for my readers to be inspired by the relatively unknown, nonetheless cool and successful people among them.

I had a friend who opened a Crossfit gym. I admired how he taught and his entrepreneur spirit. I wanted others to learn from him.

I also wanted to help him, so I wrote a column about him.

After I submitted it, my editor, a man named Steve Waterhouse, called

and asked,"What's the deal?! Are you his business partner?!" My column had turned into a thinly-veiled advertisement for his business.

That original column was never published. The reconstructed one was more about Brad and less about the benefits of joining a Crossfit.

My point? I had a gatekeeper. Someone with journalistic integrity who, despite "freedom of the press," wasn't going to let me print propaganda.

Because the Internet destroyed so much of traditional media, the Steves of the world are disappearing. Now, anyone can start a website and write whatever they want with no oversight. For example, no one is responsible for checking this post for honesty, accuracy, integrity, typos or quality.

Maybe that's fine. As I wrote here, the web opened opportunities to slip through the side door and find a following. And freedom. Without a filter.

People don't like filters. The gatekeepers (editors) at traditional media are tough. Getting a job writing for one at Time, the New York Times, or the LA Times is equivalent to making it as professional athlete or Hollywood actor. And once you're in, even on a small scale like I was, good luck on being irresponsible!

But traditional media, even with hard-working gatekeepers, gets ripped for being fake or biased (as if nontraditional media is real and neutral). When social media giants Twitter and Facebook installed laissez faire filters questioning shaky content or untruths, there was outrage.

Parler capitalized. It's unfiltered content is its business plan. On the surface, it sounds fine.

"The world's town square"

"Speak freely and express yourself openly, without fear of being “deplatformed” for your views. Engage with real people, not bots. Parler is people and privacy-focused, and gives you the tools you need to curate your Parler experience." (From Parler's homepage)

This is America. We have the first amendment. People are free to "express," and all power to them. Yet that doesn't mean what's expressed will be any good. It could be wrong, racist or a nutso conspiracy.

There might be high level content, excellent ideas and wise thoughts. But there might not.

Either way, Parler people will have their say. We're not going to muzzle them, and nor should we. We can, however, teach.

My first year in the classroom, I had to teach my third and fourth graders the difference between fact and opinion.

  • That car is a Chevrolet. = F

  • Chevrolet is the best car. = O

It was a simple lesson to teach. Eight and nine-year-olds easily got it.

Inherent in the lesson was that facts have a higher status than opinions. Anyone can have an opinion about anything. "The world will end in A.D. 66, 1000, 1224, 1524, 1666, 1780, 1806, 1972, 2007, 2011... "The earth is flat," These pants look good.

Perplexingly, to most, bizarre opinions are more popular than facts. Bill Gates says, "We have to make the truth more interesting."

Agreed. Facts and truth need better marketing. A PR plan.

Proving and disseminating, learning and understanding facts and truth takes time and effort. Spouting off unproven nonsense doesn't. And - shocker - most people will choose easy over hard.

The fact/opinion lesson is an important one, but it doesn't go far enough. Besides teaching that a Chevy is indeed a car, but not necessarily the best car, we also need to teach kids that some opinions - how can I put this? - are more educated than others.

Who's expressing it? How many are expressing it? How credible are they? What are their motives? What about their character? Who agrees with it? Who disagrees?

Quality of opinions isn't typically taught (obviously), but it can be. It should be. Because

And because - forgive me for having the audacity to (slightly) amend Einstein -

What is right is not always followed

and what is followed is not always right.

Gate keepers keep the riff raff out, but in their absence, in order to keep kids (and adults) from being swept away by a treacherous tide of tribal loyalty, we need to teach kids (and adults) how to be their own gatekeepers.

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