Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Seeking Not Truth, But Complete Truth

I grew up in a household with magazine subscriptions. We always had the latest edition of Time and Sports Illustrated on the coffee table, and for a long time we took National Geographic as well. I'm pretty sure mom read Women's Day, and there were others. As I got older, when I had my own magazine budget to spend, I chose comic books. 

Magazines were a habit I took with me into the world. As a young man I subscribed to all kinds of magazines, periodicals I considered more sophisticated than the ones my parents read, like Harpers, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker. Later I began to receive a number of literary journals like The Paris Review, The Sun, and other less well known publications, looking vainly for a place to that might be open to publishing my own strange (and, I know now, immature) fiction. 

At one point, in the late 80's, I cancelled all my subscriptions because I wasn't reading them. The internet had arrived. Today, perhaps out of nostalgia, at any moment I'm subscribed to at least one magazine. Currently it's a quarterly publication called The New Philosopher, published in Australia. Honestly, I await its arrival every four months with great anticipation, and like when I was a boy, I read it cover to cover.

I see now that magazines, in a way, were what we had instead of the internet. For the first three decades of my life, wherever I sat down at home, there would likely be a magazine handy. Sometimes I would just thumb through them, looking for short, blurb-like articles to scan, consider, and move on. Other times I would dig into one of the more in depth pieces. And then there were times when I'd just look at the pictures. I read books as well, of course, but they filled a different role in my life, standing as entire alternative worlds in which to submerge yourself, whereas magazines offered the kind of quick-hit-and-move on style of reading we do today while bouncing around between news and lifestyle sites, blogs, and social media.

There are major differences, however, between magazines and the internet. The first is that there was far less variety of perspective with our magazine culture (one that carried forward into the ascendant media of television that was firmly controlled at the time by three major networks). My family once experimented with adding Newsweek to our mix of magazines, but dropped it after a month because it repeated too much of what we'd already read elsewhere. Today, we talk about seeking out a variety of news sources in the interest of making sure we aren't being bamboozled by the politics of editorial boards, but, to our detriment, back then we didn't even know enough to consider such things. The news was the news and it was the same on CBS as it was on NBC as it was in Time.  What we today call the mainstream media had a stranglehold on public truth. We can now see it was not objective truth as we thought, but homogenized propaganda that was white supremacist at its core, corporatists, and tended to amplify the voices of the most powerful who, we know, don't always have the best interests of the public at heart. 

This is still true, but is becoming far less pronounced today even as it seems we are awash in misinformation and propaganda. As the single point-of-view has been broken into more and more competing points of view in these early stages of the internet era, we can feel as if we are being overwhelmed with perspectives. It often feels to some of us, especially those of us who grew up in the era of magazines, as if the world is falling apart. What's happening? It seems to us that there was once a day when we could all agree on "facts," but now we all disagree . . . About everything

Younger people, as they are prone to do, are more easily adapting to what I see as an inevitable shift toward this multi-perspective understanding of the world. My daughter and her friends, seek out perspectives different from their own. They are suspicious, even dismissive of mainstream media, something that was exceedingly rare within the magazine culture. What is being revealed is the extent to which we were thoroughly propagandized by a media that was more or less unified behind a narrow, single perspective which we ignorantly accepted as truth.

I can wax nostalgic about the days of calmly flipping through a magazine, comparing it favorably to the frantic thumb tapping and finger swiping of today, but those days, thankfully are behind us, I think forever. Today, we can't help but be exposed to a wider variety of perspectives, still not wide enough, still not inclusive enough, but trending in that direction. The big three television networks are still with us but with diminished power. Time magazine is evolving fully into just another website. But the singular, unified perspective is fragmenting: perspectives are becoming data points for those of us still interested in truth. Increasingly, we are coming to understand that we don't know the truth until we've listened to everyone. That can be an overwhelming idea to those of us who grew up in magazine culture.

When I look around at our world today, I see a lot of our challenges as being tied to this dynamic. Marshall McLuhan, author of such books as The Medium is the Massage and The Gutenberg Galaxy, predicted this dramatic shift from the fixed perspective world dictated by print media toward the multi-perspective world made possible by electronic media. Whether we like it or not, we are in the early stages of the democratization of truth. Pundits and others are labeling our era as "post truth," but that is only in comparison to the single perspective so many of us older people have always known. What we are really moving toward, I think, I hope, is an era in which our goal is the complete truth, meaning one that is considered from a diversity of vantage points, the wider the better. We don't have to accept them all, but we do have to listen if we are going to know the truth.

In creating the upcoming Teacher Tom's Play Summit, my wife Jennifer and I have intentionally gone out of our way to create a multi-perspective event. We have failed, of course, to provide every perspective, that would require 8 billion presenters, but we intend it as a start of our efforts to break-up the prevailing single perspective too often found in gatherings of early childhood educators and parents. 

Denisha Jones, editor of the best-selling Black Lives Matter at Schools (among other accomplishments), and presenter at the summit, says, "Even some of our developmentally appropriate practices might be grounded in white supremacist notions of what kids should know and be allowed to do."

Our indigenous speakers like Hopi Martin, Brenda Souter, and Jackie Bennet share insights into their cultures -- Ojibwe, Maori, and Australian Aboriginal respectively -- that reveal a deeper understanding of perspective. As Hopi tells us, "The Western way says, 'one-size-fits-all.' The indigenous world view is, 'How do you see it?' We're not after one view. We're after multiple views." 

I get shivers realizing that this is what Brenda Souter is talking about when she says, "Our view is to always look to the past to move forward." The multi-perspective way of viewing truth is as old as mankind. Those of us steeped in the singular perspective of mass magazine culture are the historical anomalies. 

And what, Jackie Bennet asks us, has this done to our spirit? 

As educator Suzanne Axelsson, who is autistic herself, tearfully tells us about the experiences of her three autistic children as they were forced to navigate a single-perspective school system. In listening to her perspective we clearly see why it is important, if we truly care about children, to learn to look at everything from all sides and to seek those out who can help us do it.

As we're creating this summit, I'm becoming a changed person. I still have a long way to go, but even as a product of magazine culture I'm starting to see that what has sometimes appeared to me as a breaking apart of the world is really a process of the world coming back together around the traditional, multiple-perspective complete truth. It will be a long, always challenging, and sometimes ugly process, but as presenter Caitlyn McCain says, "Close your eyes to activate your imagination." When I do that I imagine a world were we understand that truth is built by asking everyone I meet, "How do you see it?" And then listening with an open heart and mind.


Teacher Tom's Play Summit emerged from the idea that our youngest citizens need us and that there is no force on earth more powerful than parents and educators united. This is nothing less than an attempt to bring the full web of the early childhood world together with the mission of defending childhood by transforming the lives of young children and their families. It's a chance to listen and learn about best practices and new ideas from around the world from a wide variety of perspectives. Please join us for this important free event. To learn more and to get on the waitlist, click here. If not us, who? As the great children's troubadour and summit presenter Raffi sings, "Together we can turn this world around."

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