April Fools' Day & Media Literacy

I was looking for something fun to do with my high school classes today. After a little searching, and some help from my PLN on Twitter, I found this:

Yes, that's right, you are seeing a woman harvesting spaghetti from a tree! The BBC broadcasted this story on April 1, 1957 as a joke. The kicker is that spaghetti was not a commonly consumed dish in the UK at the time. It was rare and considered a delicacy, so many had never given thought to how it is created. As a result, people all over the UK were fooled into believing that spaghetti does, in fact, grow on trees.

Click here to see the short video new story that BBC aired that night.

Further reading an investigation of the web page revealed some first-hand accounts of people who were fooled by the ruse. Here are two of my favorites:

I remember it well, I was five at the time, and watched this with my dear old Dad. Mum was out for the night. We were taken in totally.

Very pleased with ourselves that we knew how spaghetti was produced, we told Mum when she got back in. We could not understand why she fell about laughing! I still have fond memories of Panorama in the old days.
Sue Elsey, England

When this was broadcast I was just eight years old and - of course - believed everything I was told or saw on the television.

The TV was a bit of a novelty for my family in 1957 and I had no reason then to disbelieve this new and amazing media.

My problem was that for years and years afterwards I believed that spaghetti grew on trees. It wasn't until many years later when I was in my late teens that I realised this was perhaps not the case and even now at 56 I'm hopeful of spotting one or two trees as I drive around the country and the continent.

One of the great April Fools jokes and one I'll always cherish.
Tony Frost, England

While it seems somewhat unbelievable that so many could fall for such an obvious fallacy, I had a follow-up discussion with my students about the role historical context plays in gullibility. All of this also led into a discussion of media literacy. Our students laughed at the people in the UK who were taken by this April Fools' Day joke, but they admitted to having been fooled by the media in the past as well.

Funny how an April Fools' Day joke can lead into a discussion of 21st Century Skills.


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