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BARTH KECK

Media literacy should be a high-school graduation requirement. There, I said it.

I’ve been teaching “Media Literacy” as a high-school English elective for almost a quarter-century, and I’ve been shouting from the rooftops the absolute necessity of media literacy for years. You can understand my frustration as our society sinks ever deeper into a mud pit of social media, fake news, and hyper-partisan websites. So even despite my aversion to top-down curriculum mandates, I fully endorse statewide action on media-literacy education.

State legislators recognized the problem two years ago, passing Public Act No. 17-67, to establish the Digital Citizenship, Internet Safety, and Media Literacy Advisory Council. This past summer, the council finished writing best practices for teachers. Dr. Melissa Hickey, Reading and Literacy Director at the Department of Education, has asked the Standards and Assessment subcommittee of the State Board of Education to review that draft at its January meeting.

For what it’s worth, here’s my recommendation to DOE higher-ups and legislators: Endorse the council’s guidelines and send them to every school district, posthaste. Then, require all high school students to take “Media Literacy” before they graduate. In fact, recommend media-lit education for the elementary schools before kids develop the pre-existing beliefs that already keep unthinking adults from seeking any information outside their cozy filter bubbles.

The situation right now is not just disheartening; it’s downright dreadful.

A new Associated Press poll found that “47 percent of Americans believe it’s difficult to know whether the information they encounter is true,” according to a New York Times story. “Just 31 percent find it easy.”

This, from the same people whose most popular source of news is social media – the very source these people say is the least trustworthy. Specifically, 54% of those polled use social media for their news, but 65% of them also say they trust social media “only a little” or “not at all.”

Adults are clearly a lost cause. Sadly, the news isn’t any better when it comes to kids.

A recent study by the Stanford History Education Group found that “when it comes to evaluating information that flows across social channels or pops up in a Google search, young and otherwise digital-savvy students can easily be duped.”

Researchers asked middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college students to complete tasks such as identifying the author of a story and evaluating the credibility of a source.

“In every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation,” the authors wrote. “Instead of investigating who was behind the site, students focused on superficial markers of credibility: the site’s aesthetics, its top-level domain, or how it portrayed itself on the About page.”

Unfortunately, just as it’s getting more difficult to judge websites, they’re only part of the problem. Enter kids’ addiction to smartphones.

A Pew study last year found that even as “54 percent of US teens ages 13 to 17 worry they spend too much time on their phones,” limiting their own phone time has ironically caused most of them to feel “anxious, lonely, or upset.” So one guess where these kids will get their news as they mature into adulthood: from their algorithm-fueled, meme-laden, context-free smartphones.

What’s more, consider “deepfakes,” which are essentially Photoshopped videos on steroids. Deepfakes are multiplying and getting more sophisticated by the day.

“Imagine a fake Senator Elizabeth Warren, virtually indistinguishable from the real thing, getting into a fistfight in a doctored video,” explains technology writer Cade Metz. “Or a fake President Trump doing the same. The technology capable of that trickery is edging closer to reality.”

Deepfakes have already fooled adults into believing that Mark Zuckerberg openly bragged about Facebook “owning its users,” that Nancy Pelosi was drunk during a public address, and that Donald Trump taunted Belgium for remaining in the Paris climate agreement. Ironically, this last example could easily be true, considering Trump’s record with public insults, which adds yet another layer to problem. (See Poe’s Law.

Conclusion? America is destined to expand as a land of news illiteracy and partisan echo chambers. You think we’re polarized now? Just wait; things will only get worse, unless we teach kids today – right now! – how to become smart, skeptical consumers of all things media.

Put simply, media literacy should be a high school graduation requirement.

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and 15th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition.