Teach Texas Students Media Literacy
That summer, the state of Illinois became the first state to require a media literacy course for all high school students. This is an important step forward, and Texas should be next.
Our nation is facing a crisis of misinformation. If the pandemic doom scrolling hasn’t shown this clearly enough, there is empirical evidence as well. A 2019 Stanford study of 3,446 American students found teenagers lacked critical information verification skills. Two-thirds of the students in the study could not tell the difference between news and ads on Slate’s website, even though ads were labeled “sponsored content”. 96 percent of students didn’t think about why links between fossil fuel companies and a climate change website could hurt the website’s credibility. Instead, they focused on superficial credibility features like the website’s graphic design.
Alan C. Miller, CEO of the nonprofit education project New Literacy Project, said there is a common and misconception among adults that because teenagers are tech savvy they are also savvy in the news.
“While students may be digital natives, they are by no means well equipped to navigate the incredibly tight information landscape they have inherited,” Miller said during an NBC News interview in May.
Texas is better than most states when it comes to promoting media literacy in schools, but we can do better. A 2020 advocacy group report, Media Literacy Now, ranks Texas as the third most effective country out of 14 states that have passed laws to promote student media literacy. The Texan Standard, which was adopted in 2019, describes the efforts as “digital citizenship”, defined as “appropriate, responsible and healthy online behavior, including the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create all forms of digital communication and to act ”. The law requires school districts to start teaching in this area, but does not specify how many classes or in which grade levels. In contrast, Florida, which leads the MLN study, integrates a media literacy requirement for each class.
So far, the discussion about media literacy in Texas has centered on online dangers such as bullying. But as students get older and become interested in news, they need the ability to analyze more nuanced information. Seasoned news consumers can think critically about things like original coverage, unnamed sources, and the ownership structure of news companies.
Texas should expand its educational requirements and the Texas Education Agency should enable ISDs to work with professional journalists in their communities to keep the curriculum updated.
If more Texans take such an approach, we will have better informed citizen debates and likely better policy outcomes.