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Habits of Mind Unit 4




Test questions & PDF



This Habits of Mind gives a brief history of objectivity and the Hutchins Commission, and discusses some of the ways that a goal of absolute objectivity can actually hinder good journalism. It teaches students the metaphor of lenses to help them think about some of the biases through which they see the world, and asks them to strive for accuracy and fairness, as opposed to objectivity.


The online exercises in the Interactive Workbook ask students to think about reporting fairly about candidates who show an obvious difference in their amount of preparation and abilities, to think about their own lenses, and to read and discuss a section of the original Hutchins Commission report.


1.  Inattentional blindness


a.  Show “The Invisible Gorilla” video from Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons’ website. 


b.  Then, scroll down to show one or both of the movie perception test videos, and then the video of Dan’s Tedx Talk.  (You can re-show one or more of the video clips if this will help students recognize what they’ve missed in the first showing.)


c.  Ask students the following questions:


Did anyone have perfect perception—did you see everything that was really there in all the videos?


  • What are some of the changes you missed in each of the videos?  That you caught?

  • What are some of Dan Simons’ points?

  • Given that perception is inherently flawed, what does this say about a reporter’s ability to perceive the world objectively?

  • What about a reporter’s ability to represent the world objectively?

  • What are some of the ways a reporter might compensate for flawed perceptions, in order to present as accurate and fair view as possible? 


2.  Lenses  (This exercise builds on the Interactive Workbook Exercise WH4-2.)


a.  Ask students to write for approximately five minutes about their responses to a current controversy in the news.


b.  Ask students to list the lenses through which they see the world that might have affected their responses.


c.  Have students read these aloud.  Push them to consider more—if it’s an international issue, in what ways are they affected by physical distance from the issue or by their nation’s relative wealth and power, if that’s relevant? 


d.  Ask students, now armed with a little more awareness about their own lenses, to create a list of ways they might take these into account to do fairer, more accurate reporting.


3.  The Hutchins Commission (This activity builds on Interactive Workbook Exercise WH4-3, which asks students to focus on a different section of the original report.)


a.  Have students read “What can be Done,” starting on page 79 of the Hutchins Commission’s report.


b.  Ask students the following questions:


  • Is this statement from the report still true:  “Our society requires agencies of mass communication.  They are great concentrations of private power”?  Does the existence of the Internet lessen or extinguish this requirement?  What about ISPs, or Internet access provided over phone lines and through cable companies?


  • How might #2—the recommendation about how the government deals with new ventures—be seen to apply to the Internet?


  • At the beginning of the section, “What can be done by the press,” the report states that one theory of the press holds that the press must be governed by profitability, or else its existence is threatened.  The commission disagrees with this theory.  In what ways might this be applicable to the news industry’s struggle to make a profit online?  In what ways might the commission still be right about this?


  • Do you agree with the following statement by the commission on page 92?:  “The press itself should assume the responsibility of providing the variety, quantity, and quality of information and discussion which the country needs.  This seems to us largely a question of the way in which the press looks at itself.  We suggest that the press look upon itself as performing a public service of a professional kind.”


  • Do you think the news media currently complies with the commission’s Recommendation #1 for the press?


  • In what ways do you think news media currently complies with Recommendation #2 for the press?  In what ways does it fail to do so?


  • What about recommendations #3 and #4 for the press?


  • What about the recommendations for the public?


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