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Essays

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Posted: Jan 26, 2007 08:04

THE SPIN GOES ON!

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By: Lon Woodbury

Roughly speaking, Spin is any statement that reflects the biases, prejudices and/or world view of the speaker. Anyone who has lived in this country will have been surrounded by it. We see and hear it in advertising, from politicians, or from anyone who is trying to talk us into believing something. In some aspects Americans have become very good at spotting spin, such as in discounting claims made in commercial advertising. But in other areas, there is the tendency to accept Spin as fact, without thinking though what is fact and what is opinion.

It has always amazed me how two people can start from the same set of facts and come to two entirely different conclusions. But, this is the world we live in and strongly underlines how important it is to tolerate different points of view without stooping to demonizing those we disagree with. Spin is presenting a subjective world view while trying to look objective. The trick for us is to see behind the world view of the writer to discern the facts behind the opinion, which is often not very easy. All too often, in issues relating to politics, finances and children for example, people tend to accept the spin and facts together, or in other words, accept the spin AS fact.

This is very true in most presentations and controversies regarding private residential parent-choice schools and programs. Those who believe these schools and programs generally do good work will emphasize the positive, while those who are critics will emphasize the negatives. Both are working from the same set of facts, so each perspective primarily reflects their world view of which facts are most descriptive of what is real. Both will "cherry-pick" the facts, picking those that confirm their world view as the norm, and discounting the rest as exceptions.

I recently ran across an excellent example of Spin in two essays presenting two opposing views coming from the same set of facts and circumstances. The main difference was in their speculations on the motives of the individuals in the story. Everything else was parallel. Both were composite constructions of the events in a transport of a child from his home to an unnamed program across the country, written from the world view of the writers. In a sense, both are right because there are many stories of transporters who were little more than thugs, treating the children they were transporting as if they were criminals, especially in the public system. There also are many stories of transports where the child virtually bonded with the people transporting them and reported it as a positive experience helping them to change their lives for the better. A person tends to emphasize his/her view of a story largely is based on his/her view of human nature. I encourage you to read both versions, and then decide for yourself which one presents the truth as you know it.

The first essay was written by Isabelle Zehnder, founder of the Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse at www.caica.org. In this version of a transport, the mother is wishy-washy, her husband was insensitive and selfish, the transport agents were little more than thugs, and the program was abusive, uncaring and dishonest to the mother. It concluded that the program was insensitive, abusive and the whole experience was damaging to the child. Although incidents like this do occur, by presenting it as typical, it reflects a bleak view of human nature that people cannot be trusted, at least without some regulatory authority looking over their shoulder.

Disagreeing with the tone of Zehnder's presentation, Janyce Lastman, an educational consultant from Toronto, Canada, wrote her version of the same story, but included incidents that had been told to her by her clients and their children who had been involved with transports. Lastman sent it to Zehnder so she could present another view in fairness to Zehnder's readers, but it was never accepted.

In the Lastman version the mother is understandably torn and confused, the father is confused but eventually becomes supportive, the transports are professional and considerate - treating the boy with firmness and dignity, and the program staff is honest with the mother while still being firm and caring with the child. This world view is more optimistic, believing that people can be trusted, at least if they have developed good reputations for professional conduct.

So there you have it, one story, based on the same facts, but with two different views of human nature. In comparing them, you can make your own decision as to which one is closest to reality. However, remember, your choice reflects more your view of human nature than it does anything else.





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