Engaging Twitter On American History

For the last two years, dear ol’ Eduflack has committed much of his professional life to improving the teaching and learning of American history. This started by leading a national research initiative that highlighted the dire need to boost American history knowledge in the United States.

We found that fewer than four in 10 Americans could pass a basic history quiz based on questions from the practice exams for the U.S. citizenship test. We followed it up with a 50-State survey using the same questions, resulting in only one state out of the 50 (plus DC) scoring higher than 50 percent.

Such surveys occur all the time. Working with ASPR, we were able to generate hundreds of news stories across the nation to spotlight the issue. For months and months, newspapers, opinion columnists, radio hosts, and the like have reported on these findings and the need to dramatically improve how we teach U.S. history.

We know, though, that social media is king. In addition to working with the mainstream media, we invested major effort into using Twitter to share this information with those who needed it most. Through a twitter push, nearly half a million Americans took the survey as an online quiz. And millions of voices on Twitter have kept the conversation going, ensuring that this important discussion was not a “one-day” story.

The reaction from media, social media, and the public at large is one of reasons Eduflack has decided to launch a major national initiative to provide interesting, relevant American history video content, lesson plans, and professional development to current classroom teachers. This new effort will officially begin this summer.

But I am incredibly humbled to receive the 2020 Social Media Award for having the most engaged Twitter followers compared to other public engagement campaigns.

Thanks to all who helped make this possible, including Adam Shapiro, Stacey Finkel, Dorie Nolt, and Frances Hannah. The award itself is nice, but more importantly, it signifies how important an issue improving American history education is and how we can use social media, including YouTube, to begin to tackle it.

Communicating During Covid

It’s safe to say that the coronavirus is dominating virtually all corners of public debate and consideration these days. It is definitely true of education, as our collective shift to virtual education is driven by talk of flattening the curve and a timeline for returning to “traditional” school.

Back in the day, dear ol’ Eduflack spent a great deal of time working on crisis and risk communications, particularly in the healthcare space. In 2004, for instance, I collaborated with the Hong Kong Department of Health to examine its communications response to SARS, what it could learn, and how the government could better engage with citizens to address the healthcare crisis.

Over at Medium, I reflect on those lessons and how they can be applied to our current pandemic and the communications response to it. Some of these ideas may seem common sense, but they are essential reading – and essential action – as we all try to deal with Covid19 response.

Please give it a read. And a share.

American History Knowledge Can Trump Election Influence Fears

Recent headlines are clear. We received the 2016 election results we did because the Russians allegedly were able to dupe a significant number of American voters, particularly Bernie Sanders supporters and African-American voters, vote against Hillary. Whether forcing Green Party votes or keeping individuals away from polling places entirely, Russian intelligence spiked our 2016 vote.

Or it was the National Enquirer. By keeping salacious gossip – whether true or no – about the Republican candidate from the front pages of the tabloid, the publishers of the Enquirer handed the election to Trump. The supermarket rag single-handedly provided Donald Trump with his “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment.

Or maybe it was Facebook’s fault, for not properly regulating what its users put forward as “news sources.” Or Twitter for giving Trump a constant platform. Or social media in general for not providing a proper nanny state for telling the average voter what information they should have access to, what they shouldn’t, and what to believe.

Two years have passed since the 2016 elections, and we still want to believe that we got the outcome we got because someone, or someones, did something nefarious to us. The American people are just victims here, with election outcomes the majority of Americans dislike forced upon it by outside forces.

Instead of buying into these conspiracy theories, though, maybe we should be having a serious discussion about a very real problem. We should be voicing our frustrations not at the Russians or the tabloids, but instead at the general absence of an informed populace.

According to this year’s Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey, less than a third of Americans can correctly name the three branches of the Federal government. A majority don’t seem to understand how the Federal government actually operates.

A recent survey by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found that only a third of Americans could pass the basic immigration exam. The majority of Americans didn’t know which states were part of the original 13 states, who the United States fought in World War II, or when the U.S. Constitution became the law of the land.

Where is our collective outrage about how little we actually know about American civics and history? Where is our growing frustration with a populace uneducated about what government can and has done to address the most pressing issues of our age?

It is heartening to see a majority of states advocating for improved civics education, looking to equip students with a better understanding of how government works, offering them the facts necessary to improve our performance on the annual Constitution Day survey. It is a start.

But it is a far cry from what should be our goal. It’s terrific for the average American to learn – and retain – enough facts and figures to answer survey questions correctly or to outperform peers at a trivia night at the local tavern. Yes, we need to know names and dates. We also need to understand what has happened in our nation’s history, why it happened, and why it is significant. We need to make history relevant for all Americans. Relevant to learn. Relevant to retain. Relevant to apply.

It’s easy to blame social media campaigns or the tabloids for election outcomes. It is far more valuable to understand yellow journalism and how media was used to advance McCarthyism.

It’s easy to accuse politicians of voter suppression. It is far more valuable to understand the Jim Crow era and the fight for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

It’s easy to attack the Electoral College for being antiquated. It is far more valuable to understand why we have it and how it has been used and abused in past elections.

When tens of millions of Americans begin to think like historians – knowing our history, understanding why things happened, and appreciating how those lessons of the past can be applied to the realities of today or the promise of tomorrow – we are a better country. Instead of just casting votes, we cast educated votes. We make decisions at the ballot box with a better understanding of how that single action can – and has – impacted our nation for decades to come.

Equally important, a better educated populace greatly reduces the strength of those outside forces we are growing to fear. With a firmer understanding of history, we don’t need social media clickbait to help us make election decisions. We instead cast our votes based on knowledge, facts, and a keener understanding of our history.

A better knowledge of American history can be a powerful thing. And it may just be the most valuable tool for improving elections … and election outcomes.

“News” Overload Has Left Us Numb

We’ve gone from humble-bragging about our kids and sharing photos of our food to using every waking moment of every day sharing every tweet, every slam, every late night comic diatribe, every propaganda piece, and every doctored photo that seems to support our belief system. And we do so by feeding it into our own echo chambers, sharing with those who already share our beliefs in hopes of strengthening the tribe. No discourse happens. No dialogues are pursued. No debates are engaged. Instead, we are in search of the almighty likes, loves, and supportive comments.

Eduflack’s latest on LinkedIn Pulse, looking at a recent Pew study and how it has affected our political discourse and our social media usage

Let’s Not Bully #BeBest

Earlier this month, First Lady Melania Trump fulfilled a promise she made during the 2016 presidential campaign. In announcing Be Best, FLOTUS committed her bully pulpit to looking issues like cyber bullying and social-emotional learning for children.

On cue, the education community largely mocked her. But maybe, just maybe, we should give Melania a chance … particularly as we we have been looking for federal leadership on issues like SEL for quite some time.

So we explore this topic on the latest edition of TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen. Maybe we can be best by giving #BeBest a chance.

Popping Bubbles

We don’t need to condemn the Cosby juror for living in a bubble, nor do we have to wonder in mock-amazement how such a person can be so uninformed by the world. We also don’t need to condemn those who found Wolf both funny and necessary, embracing the personal attacks on Sanders and the abortion humor as much-watch commentary. If anything, we need to find ways to bring the two bubbles together, even if we can’t pop them.

From dear ol’ Eduflack’s latest for LinkedIn Pulse, as I continue my push to find common ground in our rhetoric, particularly in light of both the Cosby decision and the White House Correspondents Dinner

Me Talk Education Good

Earlier this month, I shared with readers of dear ol’ Eduflack that was I was awarded a SPOKEie award in recognition of my efforts as a spokesman for not-for-profit education. Today, I’m happy to announce that next week I’ll be joining other SPOKEie winners from other fields to discuss effective communications, flacking, and branding on a live broadcast hosted by DS Simon Media.

You can register to join us on Thursday, May 3 at 2 pm ET here.

Happy viewing!