Full disclosure: the Xingyi eagle is a figment of my imagination. I created the Xingyi eagle in order to teach a lesson on the environment and investigative journalism to my newspaper reading class. The premise of the activity was as follows:
BREAKING NEWS- Hundreds of rare Xingyi eagles were found dead today and no one knows how they died. It appears that environmental factors are the cause of this tragedy but authorities are unable to solve this mystery. YOU are an investigative journalist and it is your job to find out who is responsible and expose them to the world. Placed around the room are quotes from companies, veterinarians, farmers, ornithologists, and the government. You must read these passages and look for clues that might help you uncover the truth. When you think you know who is at fault, write a short article detailing the evidence you found.
This activity was successful and many of the students were pretty self-directed throughout. I was excited to do this activity for a number of reasons. Firstly, I am passionate about environmental issues and while many of my students understand a lot of the basic ideas, there remain some concepts left for me to explain. Secondly, China is a country that does not, by any stretch of the imagination, have what we in the U.S. would call a free press. The media here is tightly controlled and while underground information might be more readily accessible in Beijing or Shanghai, such a loosening of the collar has not occurred here. In my classes it is not uncommon for students to have general information that is either highly skewed or altogether wrong. I thought that giving the students the opportunity to try their respective hands at investigative journalism might be a novel experience for them and one that might result in a higher degree of inquisitiveness and outside the box thinking. I’ll be interested to see if any of them rise to the occasion with their articles next week.