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Why Teach this Book?

A Letter to Educators from the Author

Dear Teacher,

Thank you for bringing What the Fact?! into your classroom. I hope the book activates and energizes your teaching on critical thinking, media literacy, and digital literacy as they relate to civics, history, journalism, science, math, and English curricula. Thank you for teaching these essential topics!

This teaching guide contains chapter summaries and classroom activities that bring to life the concepts and anecdotes you’ll discover in What the Fact?! With exercises that put readers in the hot seat as social media bosses and newsroom editors, this guide includes activities that explore the impact of social media algorithms, investigate the way our biases impact our beliefs, and offers step-by-step instructions for effectively debunking myths. There are games that build mental resilience and protect against falling for false information so that we can “BS-proof” our brains. 

I hope this guide proves fun and useful. In addition to this teaching guide, you can contact the Pulitzer Center education team to request a free virtual class visit from one of their journalists who can further explore these topics with your students. Please visit for more information. 

Thank you for being our frontline defense against the viral spread of misinformation and disinformation. Myself and the team at Simon & Schuster and the Pulitzer Center hope that you enjoy teaching What the Fact?!

Dr. Seema Yasmin

How We Hope This Guide Supports You

Welcome, educator. Because you have arrived at this teaching guide, you probably already know why we need an engaging, accessible guide to media literacy like What the Fact?!

Maybe you have students in your classroom who have fallen for some of the myriad hoaxes and conspiracies that aim to lure young people. Here, you’ll find tools to help them avoid future traps.

Maybe your students have heard so much about bias and misinformation in the media that they’ve become disillusioned with seeking out news altogether. Here, you’ll find a spark to re-engage them.

Maybe your students are asking you smart questions about how to sort fact from fiction, be a critical and open-minded thinker in an ever-expanding sea of information, and debunk the myths they encounter at home, online, and beyond. Here, you’ll find language, context, and evidence to support you in responding to their needs.

Studies show that young people feel smart, knowledgeable, and better equipped to take action in their communities when they engage with the news. But there are significant barriers to doing so. News often leaves students feeling sad, angry, or fearful, and they may feel that their communities and the issues they care about are under- or misrepresented in media.

Moreover, a growing body of research suggests that students have difficulty identifying false information, evaluating source bias and credibility, and distinguishing among news, opinion, and advertising online. For example, when asked to assess the credibility of a climate change website, fewer than four percent of high school students participating in a Stanford study went beyond surface level features like website domain and aesthetics to consider the organization’s major funding sources: in this case, the fossil fuel industry. Students aren’t alone. Navigating the constantly shifting landscape of news, social media, and information bombardment is a daily challenge for us all.

We hope this guide will support you in using What the Fact?! to answer your questions and those of your students, and to spark new lines of inquiry that ultimately result in classrooms full of curious and critical truth-seekers and -tellers. We also hope this guide will help you identify how the text fits into your learning goals, curriculum, and standards. There’s something here for everyone.

How can this book support me if I’m a…

  1. Language Arts or Journalism educator? What the Fact?! is a testament to the power of language and storytelling to shape our minds and our world. This book is on a mission to turn us all into critical thinkers and expert communicators. It makes text analysis and communication skills immediately relevant by offering practical tools for responsibly navigating the ideas students encounter every day in news media and online articles, social media posts, and conversations with the people in their lives.

    In addition to supporting myriad Language Arts learning goals around text and multimedia analysis, WTF provides an illuminating look into journalism from Dr. Yasmin’s perspective as a long-time reporter. Journalism students will learn about the history of Western journalism and the evolution of its norms, the structure of newsrooms, and how editorial decisions get made.

    While encouraging students to be critical, WTF discourages cynicism and overarching skepticism (such as the annoying and depressing advice: “Just don’t believe anything you see, hear, or read!”). Instead, this book challenges students not to shut down when faced with a complex landscape of bias and (mis)information, but to actively seek out truth and to maintain a curious and open mind. While engaging with this content, students can also analyze Dr. Yasmin’s writing to evaluate the purpose, structure, and tone of the book.
  1. Social Studies educator? By equipping students with strong media literacy and digital literacy skills, you are preparing them to act as empowered members of their communities and informed participants in democracy. Every tip and guide in this book (and there are many!) strengthens civic competence.

    In addition to addressing the nature of modern-day misinformation, WTF is also deeply rooted in history. Dr. Yasmin shows how the spread of falsehoods has persisted in many forms over time, from outlandish myths in 17th century Europe to racist pseudoscience that was used to justify enslavement to information warfare and government propaganda deployed in the Cold War.

    A fundamentally interdisciplinary text, WTF explores elements of psychology (how do we develop biases, and how do they influence our behavior?), economics (how do advertisers and consumer demands shape the production of news?), law (what is the relationship between the First Amendment and social media regulation?), and so much more.
  2. STEM educator? A medical doctor and epidemiologist, Dr. Yasmin is always evidence-based in her approach to media literacy. Students can learn about science, math, and technology through the content of WTF, which details the brain science that makes us susceptible to falsehoods, how mathematics can be leveraged to misrepresent data, and how social media algorithms are engineered to exploit our brain’s dopamine reward pathways. At the same time, students can learn how to communicate scientific knowledge to a public audience by observing how Dr. Yasmin makes complex and often technical subject matter fun to read and easy to understand. WTF encourages students to be the best kind of scientists: those who constantly, enthusiastically question the world around them, and their own perceptions, biases, and beliefs.

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