Principal's Blog: Podcasting, or How to Burst Your Bubble

On May 6, 2019, I offered a reflection to the JHS chapter of the National Honor Society at its annual convocation. Several parents asked me if I would share excerpts of my talk, along with some links to interesting and often provocative podcasts. I hope this blog provides food for thought for all JHS students, at each grade level—as well as their parents! -PH

On behalf of the Jesuit faculty and administration, I want to offer our sincere congratulations to the new members of NHS from the Class of 2020, and express our deep gratitude and admiration to the seniors in the National Honor Society, who have served our community so well.

Your strong and active mind is a gift from God that is given to you to nurture, to that you may grow and dare and do.

Since you juniors and seniors are the first two classes at JHS to have been born entirely in this millennium, I want to say a word about technology. Your world has always had Google and Amazon and Spotify, and it used to have Facebook (if you have not heard of that last one, it is the parent company of Instagram and Whatapp!).

We are rightly grateful for the ease with which big tech companies allow us to roam the world of knowledge, to listen to music, to shop, to connect with friends and family—apparently free of charge. We can also "stay informed" by simply glancing at our newsfeeds a few times a day. Maybe. These days, most Americans your age get the majority of their news and information from online sources—as do millions of adults.

Google and Amazon and Facebook use big-data algorithms to keep us "informed," however, within very narrow frames of reference. Their algorithms keep us in small, confined echo chambers that keep us reading news stories or buying books that reinforce what we already think. "You might enjoy this article! People like you also bought books like this! Let us create a playlist for you based on the music you already enjoy!"

When it comes to being critical consumers, much less citizens who can think deeply about our institutions, such "confirmation bias" is a real threat not only to clear thinking, but to democracy itself.

But another revolutionary technology, one of the biggest educational breakthroughs in centuries, can help us to climb out of our own, specially packaged digital echo chambers: podcasts. These days, more young people listen to podcasts than read the newspaper.

One huge benefit of podcasts is that you can learn while driving, or working out, or taking the elevator from the 8th floor of your dorm to the laundry room, which, seniors, you will need to know how to do very soon! Another benefit is that a good podcast can go deeply into an issue or a story for one, two, or even three hours, a far cry from the staccato bursts that dominate cable news.

So, bust out of your bubble. Download and listen to as wide a variety of podcasts as you can, to hear differing sides of whatever story you are interested in. Listen to the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times' The Daily. Listen to Freakonomics while driving to school, or How I Built This while exercising. Listen to the lefties on Pod Save America AND "intellectual dark web" darlings like Joe Rogan or Sam Harris. Listen to Second Life and The New Yorker and The Economist.

Podcasts will expand your horizons, and may even challenge your worldview and, dare I suggest it, change your mind on a matter of politics or religion or culture. If you can't change your mind, how do you know if you really have one that works?

Below are links to a few interesting podcasts. I am not endorsing any of the views expressed in any specific podcast—just recommending that you try a few, and dare to be challenged by ideas you may not have considered or agree with—and thus, to let your mind grow:

Paul J. Hogan