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Posted on September 20th, 2012, by

The contemporary society is traditionally perceived as a liberal, democratic society where all people are free to have their own position concerning any issue that is significant for them personally or that is significant socially or politically. However, such a view on the modern society is erroneous and does not meet the actual situation because modern people are, to a significant extent, conditioned. What is meant here is the fact that views, beliefs, social norms and standards, which modern people get used to take for granted, are often imposed on them and it is the policy makers and decision makers who are responsible for the formation of public opinion. Moreover, they are able to shape the public opinion that means that the public at large and each individual in particular is affected by policy makers who influence them. As a result, modern society has failed to free itself from various biases and prejudices, but, in contrast, it is consistently affected by biases, which actually have little in common with the real life. In such a situation, it is very important to keep the mind clear and to be able to think objectively, being free of biases. The extent to which biases can affect the life of an individual and the entire society is revealed in the book “The Assault to Reason”¯ by Al Gore, which is very useful to read, especially for students, who are particularly susceptible to biases because they are in the process of formation of their identity and life philosophy. This is why educators need to teach their students to free themselves of biases and analyze information they get from officials as well as from media, which are major tools of spreading biases within large masses of people.

First of all, it is important to underline that modern people are overwhelmed with information they receive from different sources and they receive this information constantly. The development of new technologies and telecommunications made people exposed to external influences to the extent that the current situation may be characterized as an assault on reason. In this respect, the book by Al Gore is quite noteworthy because he reveals the fact that people are susceptible to external influences and the public opinion can be manipulated easily if some people know how to use their official power and shape the public opinion. Basically, Al Gore refers to the current policies of George W. Bush. He pays a particular attention to the actions of the Bush administration after 9/11, which he believes was a planned strategy of the formation of a desirable public opinion to start the war on Iraq. Al Gore attempts to explain the audience that people were in a state of shock after the terror attacks and they could not think objectively (Gore, 2007). The fear of new terror attacks paralyzed minds of millions of Americans, who were ready to believe and support whatever the leader of the nation, the President was telling them. However, Al Gore points out that such a hysteria and mess in minds of Americans was a result of a carefully planned campaign launched and implemented by the Bush administration. In term of this campaign, Bush and his administration intentionally increase the social tension, they exaggerated possible and real risks and threats the USA could have faced in the nearest future. They attempted to draw the public attention from actual causes of the terror attacks and explanation of these attacks to the search of external enemies, a new Empire of Evil or the Axis of Evil as Bushed labeled all the countries, which he and his administration suspected to support terrorists.

In such a situation, Americans failed to reject all the biases imposed on them by the US officials. Americans blindly believed everything they heard from the President and other officials. In such a way, the President got the public mandate to act as he wished since Americans were ready to support any decision to get rid of the fear they suffered from after 9/11 (Gore, 2007). Al Gore views such manipulations with public opinion as a result of the inability of people to resist to biases. Americans failed to de-bias their views and they could not reason in objective terms, relying on evidence, facts and logic.

Potentially, such a situation may be very dangerous because the inability of people to de-bias their views affects their behavior. Some specialists (Shaheen, 2001) warn that the dominance of bias in human consciousness can lead to the formation of an authoritarian state, when the officials will manipulate with public opinion using biases or creating biases to shape the public opinion and use the public support of their actions. In such a context, educators should pay a particular attention to students because their identities are in the process of formation. Therefore, they are particularly susceptible to external influences. In fact, young people, especially if they are under twenty, can learn different biases, which become a part of their identity and it will be very difficult to de-bias them, if they do not know how to resist to bias or how to de-bias themselves.

In order to teach students to de-bias themselves, it is necessary to develop skills and abilities which allow them to analyze the information they receive and evaluated objectively, without stereotypes or biases. At this point, it is primarily necessary to show students that their views on important issues are biased and when they apply logical thinking and when they analyze the issues using evidences and their logic they will be able to reveal the enormous gap between the real life and their biased views. In this respect, it is possible to use the existing media which present one and the same issue in a different ways because the media tend to support different political and socioeconomic ideology.

For instance, specialists (Sullivan, 2005) argue that there are media which tend to left views and right views in the USA. To put it more precisely, such media as CBS, New York Times and Los Angeles Times are more inclined to left or left-centrist views, while Fox News and Washington Times basically stand on the right ground. Naturally, these media will cover one and the same issue in different ways. For instance, returning to the book of Al Gore, it is possible to choose the post-9/11 issues, such as the formation of an extremely negative view on Islam in the USA (Cainkar, 2004). Students can analyze the coverage of this problem in media referring to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post as the major sources of information on the issue. The main task of the student can be the research of articles and the presentation of Islam and Islamists in the three aforementioned newspapers. As they find related articles, they should read them carefully and identify key points which convey the message of articles. After that students need to analyze in details information they received from three different sources, i.e. New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. The analysis of the information implies that they summarize articles of each newspaper and, after that, they compare their summarized information, which contains key points of the articles, between the three newspapers. In other words, they should identify similarities in the coverage of Islam and Islamists in each of the three newspapers as well as differences. In such a way, students will able to reveal the fact that New York Times and Los Angeles Times have more similarities with each other than with Washington Post, while Washington Post’s articles on Islam and Islamists will be consistently different from the articles dedicated to this issue in New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

Basically, students can do this work individually as well as in groups, depending on the educational level of students. For instance, I have applied this approach to students at the age of seventeen. At the beginning, I just had a conversation with them concerning the problem of Islam and Islamists. In fact, I attempted to find out what they actually thought about Islam and Islamists at the moment. Unfortunately, I have discovered that their views were quite biased because six of seven students I had a conversation with had close associations of Islam and radical movements, while only one student admitted that it is a religion above all. In such a way, the next step they had to do could be very useful for them to understand that their views are not absolutely objective. I asked them to search for articles related to the issue of Islam and Islamists in the New York Times or Los Angeles Times and Washington Post and analyze the information they got, in accordance with the procedure described above. I asked them to pay a particular to finding out differences between the presentation of Islam and Islamists in different papers.

Eventually, when they collected the information and analyzed it, we discussed their findings at the special meeting we had. During this meeting, I have noticed that students were a bit puzzled that there were significant differences in the coverage of Islam and Islamists in different newspapers since New York Times and Los Angeles Times tended to be more moderate, while Washington Post tended to present Islam as a radical movement. In such a way, students understood that the views on one and the same problem may be different and when discussed what Islam actually is, when we discussed its history and developed, they have found out that they have known almost nothing about Islam before the meeting and practically all of them changed their views on Islam.

Thus, in conclusion, it should be said that the modern society needs to be bias free. Otherwise, people will be susceptible to external influences and their reason will sleep, while the officials will manipulate people as they want. This is why, it is necessary to teach students to de-bias their views and analyze carefully information they receive from media and officials.

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