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Media Literacy

Media literacy



If you’ve read the news about fake news in the past four years, you’ve come across the term media literacy and the call for inclusion in public education.

I’ve been teaching media literacy (as an educational advisor) for over 20 years, but it wasn’t until former President Trump pronounced the news media wrong that people took notice.

Media literacy means thinking critically about what you are consuming from the media. Critical thinking involves asking questions, but it seems that in this information age, most people accept what is read without question, including our students.

In 1999, a study I conducted found elements of media literacy in the teaching standards of all 50 states. But media literacy will be hard to find in 2021, especially because 42 states have now passed new standards called Common Core. South Carolina is not one of those states, and media messaging analysis is off the radar of most educators, but it should be.

last callA recent study by RAND Corporation found that 92 percent of secondary school teachers surveyed said, “Students must learn to critically evaluate information for credibility and bias – this is a critical ability to citizenship.”

Check What You Read: Have you seen the picture on the internet of students sitting in an art museum looking at their phones?

It was sent to me by a school librarian who was appalled that the students did not notice a famous Rembrandt hanging on the wall behind them. I questioned his conclusion.

Wasn’t it possible, I wrote, that these students were busy and not distracted? I searched the internet and found that the Amsterdam Art Museum created an app and installed benches to make it easier for students to answer questions about the artwork.

Here is the problem. Too many people don’t verify or validate what they hear, see, or read.

Question The Media You Consume: I encourage my audience to think of a few simple media literacy questions, including:

  • Who is the author, creator, producer?
  • What is the purpose of the message (to inform, convince, sell, educate)?
  • Who is the target audience and how do you know that?
  • What technique (s) are used to make the message attractive or believable?
  • Who will benefit (make money) from the news?

See advice from the NPR series “On The Media”. Recommended guidelines for identifying fake news are:

  • Red flag for fake news: ALL UPPERCASE or obviously Photoshop images.
  • Check out an unlikely story by finding a reputable outlet that reports the same thing.
  • Check the date. Social media often resurrects outdated stories.
  • Read past headlines. They often bear no resemblance to what lies below.
  • Check the domain. Fake websites often add “.co” to trusted brands to steal their shine. (ie: “abcnews.com.co”)

How do we ensure that the new generation of students has the necessary skills to think critically about what they read? One answer is to ensure that public schools make media literacy a priority.

A media literacy bill was tabled by Richland Rep. Seth Rose during the SC’s 2021 legislature in January. If passed, the State Department of Education would need to ensure that media literacy is included in all K-12 classes.

There is much to do. Until we make media literacy a priority, we will continue to create a media illiterate citizenry.

FRANK W. BAKER is a Colombia-based media literacy expert.


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