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Teaching media skills is more important than ever


2020 was a difficult year for journalism. The economic impact of the coronavirus has decimated many newsrooms across the country. At the same time, supporting local news has never been more important.

A strong belief in the importance of journalism led me to add additional newspaper subscriptions from Florida and some major cities across the country this year. If you are reading these words and are not currently a newspaper subscriber, I recommend supporting your home newspaper with a paid subscription.

I was dismayed to see the editors of the Tallahassee Democrat recently published a political cartoon depicting exaggerated features of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg surrounded by money bags. The general characterization of Bloomberg used images that support stereotypes about people of Jewish faith.

This cartoon dates back to political propaganda used to promote anti-Jewish sentiments in Nazi Germany. Caricatures with Jewish stereotypes were used as part of a coordinated plan of indoctrination aimed at dehumanizing a group of people.

While I absolutely appreciate that the Tallahassee Democrat quickly removed the cartoon and posted an apology, I felt like an opportunity was missed to discuss why the cartoon was problematic.

Jeffrey Herf, a professor at the University of Maryland, has written extensively on the use of propaganda in Germany. In his letter, he noted that newspapers were one of the methods the government used during the Holocaust years to promote indoctrination to aid in the internment and extermination of Jewish people. The use of propaganda is not an isolated case in Germany and a form of media that is still present worldwide today.

While the state of Florida has mandated Holocaust education in Florida by law since 1994, there are far-reaching interpretations of how this mandate is incorporated into the curriculum. In June of this year, Governor DeSantis signed a bill to expand Holocaust education in Florida. The law requires teachers to include classes on anti-Semitism.

While Florida is a national leader in communicating the Holocaust, deficits in media literacy contribute to gaps in knowledge about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Effective education about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism must also include instruction in media literacy.

It is more important than ever to develop these critical assessment skills. Scholastic.com, among other educational resource sites, offers lessons and strategies for integrating media literacy instruction into the overall curriculum.

A group called Connect Safely has created a guide to help parents and teachers help children develop the skills to be more savvy media consumers. The guide is called The Parent and Educator Guide to Media Literacy and Fake News and is available for free at ConnectSafely.org.

4-H offers a quick and easy lesson on digital literacy that families can do together to explore media literacy: https://4-h.org/about/4-h-at-home/fact-or-fiction /. The lesson asks the youth to research a topic and evaluate the information available about it.

Rachel Pienta is the 4-H trainee advisor in Wakulla. She can be reached at r.pienta@ufl.edu.

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