We live in a fast-paced age where people lack the time – or simply choose not to take the time – to discern true meaning from the glut of information that surrounds them.
Case in point: A recent interview of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III in which he said, “I feel like I’m the best quarterback in the league” – words that comprised just one portion of a much broader interview.
“Any athlete at any level, if they concede to someone else, they’re not a top competitor, they’re not trying to be the best that they can be,” explained Griffin. “There’s guys in this league that have done way more than me. But, I still view myself as the best because that’s what I work toward every single day.”
Fans reacted loudly and negatively.
“ESPN talked about that quote in the middle of the day,” wrote sportswriter Frank Schwab. “Other outlets used that as a headline and social media went nuts. This was not Griffin standing on a table and saying he was the best quarterback in football; you can’t read that long quote and have that takeaway. But who really read the full context?”
Not too many people, thanks to the nature of media today – most notably, social media – which feed consumers large doses of information minus any context.
“[Griffin’s quote] was taken out of context because his full comment runs about 125 words and it doesn’t fit into a tweet,” explains Redskins blogger Rich Tandler. “At that size it even pushes the limits of the recommended length for an attention-getting Facebook post.”
Such is the state of the news cycle today: Someone famous is interviewed, a portion of that interview is highlighted in news stories, aggregator websites use tantalizing headlines to promote the most alluring quote from that portion of the interview, people share sensationalized pronouncements of that one quote on social media, and the whole thing goes viral.
At some point, the truth gets lost.
Which brings us to Ohio governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich.
“If I were, not president, if I were king in America, I would abolish all teachers’ lounges where they sit together and worry about ‘woe is us’,” said Kasich, according to MSNBC.
Wait a minute? Did I read that right? This guy wants to get rid of teachers’ lounges because they create whining teachers? That’s exactly what I saw on one Facebook post.
But let’s not jump to conclusions – this could be a quote taken out of context. We should investigate.
In fact, Kasich’s remarks entailed more than teachers’ lounges. He was simply using the teachers’ lounge as a metaphor.
Spokesman Rob Nichols explained that Kasich “thinks teachers have far more support in their communities than they sometimes give themselves credit for and they shouldn’t pay attention to the small number of pot-stirrers in their ranks who try to leverage problems for political gain. Anyone thinking he was making a comment on buildings or school architecture or space usage might need to look up the word ‘metaphor’ in a dictionary.”
Okay. I’m an English teacher. I understand “metaphor.” Kasich was actually showing support for teachers.
Or was he?
“I’ll tell you what the unions do, unfortunately, too much of the time,” said Kasich. “There’s a constant negative comment to, ‘They’re gonna take your benefits, they’re gonna take your pay.’”
Kasich wasn’t the only one criticizing teachers’ unions.
“Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said, ‘The union is not there to talk about rising student achievement, they’re there to collectively bargain, over and out. They hate anything that brings about more choices for parents and students.’”
So let’s put this all together: Kasich used teachers’ lounges as a symbol for teachers who gripe about issues that the union promotes. Thus, the unions are the real problem in public education – not teachers’ lounges.
It looks like many people actually did take Kasich’s quote out of context.
That said, I’d suggest Kasich choose an updated metaphor for the problems of public education. The truth is, I haven’t seen the inside of a teachers’ lounge for more than a decade – the increasing demands on my time during the school day no longer allow it.
If anybody needs more context, then, it’s the presidential candidates offering so-called solutions for public education.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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