Without Media Literacy Our Future is Bleak. And without Media Literacy we cannot have any chance for reasoned discussion.
“At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish. … If the children are the future, the future might be very ill-informed.” —Stanford History Education Group, 2016.
The fact that 70 percent of middle school students in a recent study could not distinguish between fake news and authentic news is absolutely terrifying.
Across 12 states and 7,800 student responses, the overwhelming majority of our students from middle schools to universities were easily manipulated into believing falsehoods to be true or credible. According to reporting by NPR about the study, “In exercise after exercise, the researchers were ‘shocked’—their word, not ours—by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of information.”
Not only students buy many adults I meet have a false sense of confidence about their media literacy skills.
The scary part is watching students’ and adults complete ignorance of any framework for questioning the validity of their results. The problem is that students don’t know what they don’t know.
I want to be wrong about this, but as with the Stanford researchers, I believe we are in serious trouble.
Simply put, we has a voting community do not have good enough information to make informed decisions.
Educators across the nation are finding that even when students pass print-based reading tests, they are basically illiterate when it comes to web-based content.
Historically, we did not have to teach our students how to question the validity of information when we ensured the books in the library and in our classrooms were selected by educators. Providing our students exclusively with vetted information is no longer sufficient. Yes, we need to continue to give our students high-quality content, but we also need to prepare our students for a world that does not have a Dewey decimal number on the book jacket and is in their hands or pocket 24-7.
We also need to recognize that various media channels have different structures that require very specific lessons for literacy. At a minimum, our students should be in a position to say that they do not know, instead of confidently claiming to understand. Unfortunately, there are powerful forces in place—such as our traditional assessment designs—that keep us from creating innovative, web-based lessons. In this country, we tend to teach what we test. I do not know of any state or national test that measures web or media literacy. Without a test that requires this skill, we may be stuck in our paper-based definition of what it means to be literate.
Just as we ensure that our students do not misinterpret a quotation to be attributable to the main author, we should also ensure that our students know the simple difference between a modified tweet, a retweet, and an original tweet.
We also must teach students how to develop a line of inquiry in tracking down a primary source to verify an opinion on a website. One powerful fact-checking tool that all of our students (and adults) should know how to use is the Wayback Machine (www.archive.org), which has been backing up the web since 1995. Students can use this tool to find historical information online, such as what an organization or politician stated years ago, and then compare it to what is being reported in the present time.
We are in a mission-critical state of losing our democracy unless we broaden our definition of what it means to be literate today. As with reading print, web and media literacy needs to be embedded across the curriculum and within the design of assignments across all grades and subjects. Students need practice, practice, practice.
The one thing we can count on is that the web will get messier and nastier. We must prepare our students to navigate the reality of this messy world. Hanging on to the idea that somehow we can control the information our students access is counterproductive to one of the original tenets described by the Founding Fathers: “Education being necessary to its [democracy’s] success, a successful democracy must provide it.”