john silva speaking at nlp event

NLPeople: John Silva, senior director of education and training


John Silva

is is the first in an occasional series that introduces you to the people behind the scenes at the News Literacy Project.

Silva and his debate team at Lindblom Math & Science Academy in Chicago

1. Can you tell us about your background and what brought you to NLP?

Prior to joining NLP four years ago, I was a classroom teacher for 13 years. I taught middle and high school social studies in Chicago Public Schools. I was actually introduced to NLP’s early programs while teaching middle school. I taught a variety of subjects, but my favorites were “History of Chicago” and “Argument and Debate.” Before becoming a teacher, I worked in a variety of positions in corporate telecommunications (which I hated) mostly focused on cellular and wireless networking. I’ve lived in Chicago for almost 25 years but I grew up mostly in California (Navy brat).

2. You are a veteran of the U.S. Marines. Could you share a little bit of your experience serving your country?

Having grown up in a military family, I enlisted and served in the end years of the Cold War. Enlisting was almost expected (though my old man hated that I joined the Marines). My dad spent 27 years in the Navy; my sister retired from the Navy after 25 years, and our Mom was a Marine in the late ‘60s. It was at times exceptionally challenging and other times very boring. I was selected for the Marine Presidential Guard program and served with the Guard Company at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. Later I transferred to the Fleet Marine Force as an infantryman assigned to the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton, California. I did get to visit some amazing places while deployed with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) including parts of Asia, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and Australia.

PFC John Silva, USMC, School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton, California, 1990.

3. How has being a Marine influenced your work or your approach to life?

Part of why I hated corporate America was that it didn’t feel like there was a real purpose. I was just another worker in a sea of cubicles, and none of us really cared about why we were doing our jobs. It was because of that experience that I quit my job and enrolled in school to earn my teaching degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Becoming a teacher was in many ways similar to serving in the military. I was part of a team of professionals working towards a larger, important goal. Each of us had to contribute to the success of our mission. I have that same sense of purpose with our work at NLP.

4. What is the most surprising thing you have learned or experienced since joining NLP?

I think watching the explosive growth of conspiracy theories like QAnon has been fascinating and disconcerting to watch. The pandemic in particular created a perfect storm for those beliefs to flourish (much like a virus). I’ve also been surprised by how much my son Alex, 11, has learned from being around my work and how much misinformation he’s already being exposed to. He’s really interested in conspiracy theories and knows way more about them than any 11-year-old should. I guess that would be the most surprising – my son and I have bonded over conspiracy theories.

5. What news literacy tip, tool or guidance do you most often use or recommend?

When in doubt, Google it. So much false information can be easily debunked in less than 20 seconds.

6. What is the first thing you will do once we fully emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic?

I am really looking forward to traveling again. I travel a lot for work, which is fun, but I also try to travel a few times a year for pleasure. My girlfriend and I already have several ideas in mind for trips, and I have promised my son a trip to see the Grand Canyon.

John and his son, Alex.

7. Aside from fighting for facts, what else are you passionate about?

I love to cook. A couple of years ago I took a week off from work to go to a five-day culinary “boot camp” at The Chopping Block here in Chicago. I learned so much, and it’s a joy to prepare good food for people. I plan to enroll in the follow-up course at some point to learn some advanced skills. I’m also hoping to start teaching my son soon. He’s becoming a real foodie and loves trying new foods. Also, I bought a house about six months ago and I have been enjoying decorating and updating it. I recently started working to create space for a small garden.

John’s cat, Minuette, on the shelf John built for her to look out the window.

8. Are you on team dog, team cat, team wombat?

I am team cat. I adopted Minuette two years ago. She has a special perch for the window in my office and makes frequent appearances in my video calls and webinars. I’ve also become good friends with Hazel and Petunia, my girlfriend’s basset hounds.

9. What one item do you always have in your refrigerator?

I always have frozen minced garlic for cooking and real maple syrup for making an Old Fashioned.

10. What’s in your messenger bag right now?

I have a small leather notebook holder (I’m old school and prefer to write things down), a big water bottle and my Kindle. Those three things are always in my bag.

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