Current Events & the Media: An Interview with Perry Eaton

Perry Eaton

“This year has been a good year to explore current events in the media,” said Perry Eaton, Upper School history teacher, with a laugh.

Mr. Eaton was effortlessly informed. If I had a nickel for every time he said a last name I didn’t know, I would be 35 cents the richer. While we spoke, I nodded and tried to correctly spell names I’d only heard in passing (is it Upton Saint-Claire?). It makes sense that he would teach a class that focuses on current events through the lens of the media’s role and responsibility in reporting them.

Mr. Eaton has been teaching The Media & its Influences for three years, but the events of 2020 and 2021 have provided more course material than ever. While the class does periodically dive into Sinclair and unpack media bias outside of the 21st century, it predominantly deals with current events.

“Randall [Northrop] (who also teaches the course) and I did the macro over the summer” in terms of course planning but let much of the actual content they cover unfold before them.

This year, students have looked at the Black Lives Matter protests, schools re-openings during the pandemic, vaccine distribution, and the capitol riots—all through the lens of the media’s role and responsibility around them.

“A lot of students interacted with the George Floyd protests and where the Black Lives Matters protest went and have continued to go. [In this], students have seen social media and media used as a tool of justice and have examined the responsibility of the citizen journalist.”

The class is also an opportunity for students to be journalists themselves. This past term, they researched Covid-19 in the news and created a documentary or a podcast (“media of [their] own”), and also talked to journalists in the field, including New Yorker staff writer Sue Halpern and CNN reporter Eric Levenson. These are the kinds of last names you want to know when you go to the Thanksgiving dinner hosted by your intellectually-competitive side of the family.

Mr. Eaton also told me about student projects—he mentioned the amazing last names that students were bringing to class and exploring themselves. Mr. Eaton’s knowledge inspires his kids to seek knowledge of their own. His students look into why information is reported the way that it is. They’re finding out why “when two students search Joe Biden, they might wind up with two completely different results.” Imagine the stimulating dinner table conversations his students can’t help but have about his class. Mr. Eaton is not only teaching his students about the media, but he’s also instilling in them the value of being an informed citizen and a curious thinker.

When asked how these curious thinkers have surprised him, Mr. Eaton noted that students today have a different definition of “the news” than previous generations.

“No longer does [the news] have to be told by someone behind a desk on TV,” Mr. Eaton said. “Especially when talking about social justice, it’s reported by all of us.”

— Lizzie Conklin is an intern at Beaver Country Day School and assistant to painter Joel Janowitz. She is currently interning in various departments at Beaver—including Visual Arts and Marketing. She hopes to one day be an artist.

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