Teaching through the lies of America’s pyrite president

To prepare students for the post-truth era of relativism and Donald Trump, teach them how to smell the truth

TORONTO, Ont. Jan. 25, 2017 /Troy Media/ – Never believe a person who needs to say when he’s being honest.

Like when a young Juliet says to her Romeo, “I’m not going to lie, baby, but I forgot about our date.”

It’s true she forgot their date. She’s not lying about that fact. But she’s probably lying about everything else she says. Or why else would she say she’s not going to lie?

Romeos, take note: your Juliets might be making other plans.

The rest of us, too, should note how people talk to us. After all, we live in the Post-Truth Era (if you believe our grandparents were any more honest).

Regardless, this is our era – and it’s an era of ignoble birth.

The mother of Post-Truth was a post-modern scholar. She and her colleagues concluded, after much thought, that no objective truths exist. Truth is relative. Religion is mind control. History is a sexist, imperialist lie. To find meaning in life, we must each make our own truths. Ideology is all. Power, not truth, shapes human existence. Seek power, she tells her children.

The father of Post-Truth was a businessman. While his wife grimly meditates on nothingness, he acts. Truth, always inconvenient, impedes his profit-making ways. He, a pragmatic man without principles, sidesteps it. He tells lies to sell cigarettes, junk food and magic beans. He serves himself. For him, greed is good. Money is power. Make as much as you can, he tells his children.

Together, these two liars conceived a child, the Post-Truth Era made flesh in Donald Trump.

Trump, America’s pyrite president, tells more lies than Pinocchio ever could have. He is the liar-in-chief who claimed, falsely, that Barack Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya. He lies when he says millions of “illegals” voted for Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton. He slanders opponents. He exaggerates his accomplishments. He lies.

So do the people around him. Most recently, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway said the Trump administration was offering “alternative facts” when it lied about the number of people who attended Trump’s inauguration.

The Post-Truth Era presents educators with interesting philosophic questions: What happens to a society, and its politics, when no common truths exist? And how do educators teach in such conditions?

The short answer: Teach students how to smell a lie.

One way to develop better noses is to teach methods – the how of thinking. The scientific method reveals truths about the natural world. Philosophy, reason and logic allow us to test knowledge through discussion and argument. Falsehoods collapse under scrutiny. If it stands true, we say it’s true.

But this sort of teaching and learning is difficult work. It only flourishes in supportive classrooms.

Supportive classrooms nurture students. They do not nurse. They support people, not delusions. They give students space to make mistakes, see their errors, and change their minds without shame or intimidation. They are places with an obtainable truth that exists beyond nothingness and avarice. They are a place for higher things.

The sooner we build these classrooms, the better, because our students are learning confusing lessons. All their lives they have been told by adults that lying is wrong. You’ll get tangled up in lies. Lies will get you nowhere.

Yet they turn on the TV and see a bigoted, sexist liar become president of the United States of America.

So why not lie?

Because lying is wrong. That’s the truth.

Clever students will ask: Who’s truth?

The answer is: Our truth.

Either take truth-telling as a virtue and honesty as a first principle, as self-evidently right, or live with alternative facts and fake news.

That’s a world where lies spring from lies and nothing comes from nothing.

And you don’t want to live there.

Troy Media columnist Robert Price is a communications and professional writing instructor at the University of Toronto. Robert is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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