2016 Is A Good Lesson For Teachers

No matter what subject you teach, the 2016 presidential election results actually do provide a good lesson in research and evidence-based writing.

See, a lot of people relied on one set of data to predict how 2016 would turn out: The polls. Virtually every poll got it wrong. However, hindsight being what it is, there was actually plenty of evidence out there that suggested Donald Trump would, in fact, outperform expectations, even to the point of victory. The problem is that a lot of that evidence actually falls into the category of anecdotal, which is rarely seen as viable data.

What happened in this election, however, is a case of what is known as confirmation bias, which is having a bias toward the information that confirms what you already believe to be true. In teaching students to write evidence-based essays, it is something you have to teach them to avoid, because it causes you to seek out information that confirms a result rather than answers a hypothesis (which makes my falling into the trap of confirmation bias in this election that much more embarrassing – I knew better).

Even in persuasive and argumentative writing, you have to teach students to research and examine counter-claims (the claims someone arguing against you might make). If you are only looking for information that confirms your view on a subject and not entertaining another side, you will not be prepared when the other side shows up with good talking points.

There was an observable enthusiasm gap. Trump supporters were more excited to be supporting Trump than Clinton supporters were excited about supporting Clinton. There was also a gap between online support. There were other signs, too, but we didn’t pay attention to them because we thought that rallies and the online community were simply too small to really represent actual support. And, these were things that were pointed out to guys like me. Repeatedly. And guys like me didn’t listen.

It’s a lesson that can be applied in English (as I will be applying it), Science (when researching and testing hypothesis), and Social Studies (in trying to explain or argue certain historical or political points).



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