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Some advice to protestors: Fact check before you chant

Protests such as the recent student walkout might be spreading more falsehoods than truth

If you want to form a protest, it might be more efficient to research what you’re protesting before chanting the day away. You can accomplish a lot with a protest if it’s done right. Informed citizens take issue with a specific policy and gather together to let their leaders know their displeasure with said policy, as well as advocate for specific solutions. But when standing amongst the protestors at the recent Public Education Rally and Student Walkout—held on Feb. 16—I got the feeling the protest was less of a gathering of concerned citizens, and more a mob of shallow groupthinkers.

In the past few months, the country has been inundated with protests mainly regarding the new presidential administration. There were protests when Trump was elected, protests when Trump was inaugurated, protests at colleges—such as UC Berkeley—the Women’s March on Washington, the Day Without Immigrants protest, the Not My President’s Day protest, the Planned Parenthood protests, etc. With so many protests in such a small amount of time some of them have led to oversimplification of complex issues. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Public Education Rally and Student Walkout.

Many young adults showed up with the sole purpose of either skipping school, chanting or just being angry. They weren’t informed about the rally’s topic. The majority of the event was chant after chant of tired cliches, with only a small amount of time given to speeches. When speakers did try to give speeches, they were often overpowered by the crowd chanting. The speeches themselves were shallow with trite “the government works for us” messages. There were many complaints, but few solutions other than the generic, “Get rid of DeVos,” and “more funding,” which have been repeated ad nauseam lately.

There will always be some uninformed demonstrations at protests on any side of the political spectrum, but in the case of the Student Walkout, the ignorance led all the way up to the top. As reported last week in an Arbiter article I wrote titled, “Students walk out of class to protest new education secretary,” the organization responsible for the protest, “People for Unity” sent out a fact sheet with arguments for protesters to memorize. The sheet made a lot of very extreme claims such as: advocating for charter schools creates de-facto segregation,  minorities and those in poverty wouldn’t be able to get a charter education and  recent reforms to charter schools in Detroit were “what even charter (school) advocates acknowledge is the biggest school reform disaster in the country.”

The way People for Unity tried to source these claims was sloppy. They only directly cited one source that stated 87 percent of schools in Idaho were public schools. Every other bold claim levied by the group was uncorroborated. There was one indirect citation given by the group—if you call an indirect citation directly copying word-for-word an expert from a New York Times opinion piece without citing it indirect. In an interview for said Arbiter article, Jesse Thomas, an organizer of People for Unity, did indirectly cite the study used to back up that opinion piece and claimed the study showed millions of dollars were poured into charter schools in Michigan with zero gains shown.

But when you read the actual study—which was called “Charter School Performance in Michigan” and was conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)—it becomes clear how uninformed and hastily thrown together the group’s message was. The conclusion of the study suggests charter schools actually helped do some good in Michigan, even though People for Unity claimed they only negatively impacted Michigian.

If the organizers had taken just a few minutes to look through their own sources, they would have found that the conclusion of the study rather embarrassingly contradicts their bold claims.

“Based on the findings presented here, the typical student in Michigan charter schools gains more learning in a year than his TPS (traditional public school) counterparts,” CREDO states in their conclusion. “Charter schools have significantly better results than TPS for minority students who are in poverty.”

Now this study is not the end-all evidence to the very complex debate about school vouchers and charter schools. However, the leaders of People for Unity supported the spread of general ignorance surrounding complex issues at their rally. The very people who organized the event didn’t take the time to check their own sources.

In an environment where claims about so-called “fake news” are  being circulated  more than ever, it’s up to every individual to fact check their own arguments and constantly search for opposing viewpoints. In that regard, People for Unity failed.

People for Unity have the right to hold a protest. But they and all protestors in the future should ask themselves what they are really protesting, if they know enough about that subject to be informed and what specific solutions they would put forward. Right now, the outrage culture is instead pushing out as many uninformed and angry protests as it can, and that only alienates people from each other. If you want to protest every little thing someone you don’t like does every single week, then go ahead, but if you are uninformed or look hysterical, it makes your side look bad and alienates any moderates you’re trying to reach.