Last week was National News Literacy Week. How fitting that the Connecticut Department of Education (DOE) announced the adoption of its Digital Citizenship, Internet Safety, and Media Literacy Guidelines and Recommended Actions.
Since the summer of 2017, a committee comprised of “teachers, library media specialists, representatives from parent-teacher organizations, and individuals with expertise in digital citizenship, internet safety, and media literacy” has worked on the guidelines under the auspices of Public Act 17-67.
Developing the guidelines took two-and-a-half years of hard work by committee members. But now the work gets even harder: We must put those guidelines to use and teach the kids. As the DOE explained, “Every day students are vulnerable to dangers such as cyber-bullying, identity theft, and phishing.”
What’s more, American students – to say nothing of adults – are woefully deficient in news literacy. That’s why the News Literacy Project (NLP) teamed up with the E.W. Scripps Company to develop National News Literacy Week.
“The need for news literacy has never been greater,” according to NLP. “Even the savviest audiences can find it hard to distinguish between legitimate news and content created to persuade, sell, mislead, or exploit.”
As an example, the News Literacy Project notes that “63% of people worldwide agree that the average person can’t tell good journalism from rumors or falsehoods.” In addition, “50% of the public are only slightly familiar with the term ‘op-ed’ or don’t know what it means.” (Hint: You’re reading an op-ed right now.)
I had the good fortune of attending NLP’s NewsLitCamp, co-sponsored by Bloomberg News last week in New York City as part of News Literacy Week. The day-long seminar offered educators a “first-hand introduction to news literacy, along with tools and resources they can use in their classrooms.”
To say the seminar was time well-spent for this teacher of media literacy is a vast understatement. In short, I was enthralled the entire day. For instance, I found myself continuously nodding in agreement as NLP Director of Education John Silva explained what it means to be “news-literate” – to recognize when information is credible, to know what sources to trust, and to engage positively with the news. And I immediately recognized the content of my own class lessons as Silva outlined the various types of misinformation and the fact-checking skills needed to detect them.
News literacy is not a skill restricted to the confines of just one class, however. Silva underscored the importance of embedding news literacy throughout a school’s entire curriculum. Whether it’s in the library or in language arts, history, science, and math classes, the critical-thinking skills inherent in news literacy are essential throughout all disciplines, according to Silva, a former social studies teacher in Chicago public schools.
As if to test the skills we had just discussed at NewsLitCamp, I came across an intriguing item on my Facebook page as I rode the train ride home. It seems “deep state players in the Obama administration wove an elaborate tapestry of collusion, subterfuge, and electoral chicanery” in order to “preordain the 2016 electoral outcome.” As the mesmerizing article asked, “What better way to do this than to spy on the rival presidential campaign?”
Aside from the fact that the author was a “Denver-based physician and freelance writer” – not exactly a member of the Media Bias Fact Check, American Thinker is “questionable, based on extreme right-wing bias, promotion of conspiracy theories/pseudoscience, use of poor sources, and failed fact checks.”
I mentioned these points in the comment section of the original Facebook post, and I provided a link. The originator of the post ignored my comment, which I didn’t mind, considering Mark Twain’s famous observation: “No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot.” As it happened, I had just seen that quote in another Facebook meme. Just one problem: Mark Twain never said it.
Clearly, Americans – especially kids – need help navigating the information overload they encounter on a daily basis.
Good thing, then, the Connecticut Education Department has adopted guidelines for digital citizenship, internet safety, and media literacy. Never before have such topics been more essential and more timely. Indeed, it’s past time for schools to start addressing these topics.
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.
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