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The rise in fake news is adding a new urgency to media literacy education in America’s schools


This article first appeared on the Education Writers Association blog

The rise of fake news was the worst that could happen to media literacy in schools.

So says Sherri Hope Culver, director of the Center for Media and Information Literacy at Temple University.

In recent years, it has been difficult to convince lawmakers and reporters the importance of teaching children to analyze and evaluate media, Culver said recently during a New Orleans Education Writers Association seminar. They would ask what made the problem at the right time.

“And then we had a choice,” she said, referring to the 2016 presidential race. “And it’s not about who was elected. It’s about how information was conveyed. How did people make decisions? This has fueled the discussion about media literacy. If fake news is the way to go, I’m for it. “

In the 2016 election season, fake news – false or intentionally misleading information disguised as authentic news – was produced and distributed on a historic scale. A sophisticated disinformation campaign by Russia, the ease with which stories can be shared on social media, and a presidential candidate with a habit of spreading unsubstantiated claims turned out to be a powerful combination.

A recent analysis found that the most popular fake election news was shared more often on social media than the most popular stories on the mainstream news media.

A “vaccine” for #FakeNews?

Some, like Culver, promote media literacy as a solution to fake news. She was one of three experts at the EWA New Orleans Seminar on Character and Citizenship Education to discuss the responsibility of schools to teach students to distinguish between false and credible sources of information.

Spokesperson Damaso Reyes, director of community partnerships and engagement at the News Literacy Project, agreed: “There is a cure – or rather a vaccine – for fake news. This vaccine is actually message literacy education. “

Understanding what is real is still a challenge for a generation of digital natives.

Almost half of children ages 10-18 said they made a difference between a fake news story and a real one, according to a 2017 Common Sense Media survey of 853 children across the country. At the same time, 31 percent said they’d shared a story on social media in the past six months that they later discovered wasn’t true.

About half of the teens said they care about following the news, the survey found. Students said social media was their main source of news, with YouTube and Facebook reported as the two most popular platforms.

Find space in a crowded curriculum

When Jana Chao, a fifth-grade teacher in Clinton, Mississippi, teaches her students media literacy, she challenges them to see if there is an agenda behind a story and to reflect on the goals of the organization that produced the story. Chao, who spoke at the EWA event, said she was also helping students consider what viewpoints might be missing from the message.

One challenge that many educators face, Chao said, is finding time for media literacy. “You need to understand the pull of test results and accountability. Where do I bring media literacy to the classroom? “

Reyes said it can be taught across the curriculum. “Media skills actually fit into social studies, history, ELA, IT. You can integrate that, because the heart of our work is critical thinking. “

Culver repeated the point about critical thinking.

“This is not a partisan issue. It is not a teacher’s view of what should be right or wrong, ”she said. “It helps you think about how you make decisions, how you extract information in your life so that you can do it in a way that works for you.”

Several states, including Washington, Connecticut and Rhode Island, recently passed media literacy laws, the Associated Press reported in December.

For example, the new Washington measure requires the state superintendent to provide educators with media literacy resources and conduct a survey on how those skills are taught. Connecticut’s law, also passed last year, created a council to develop recommendations for teaching media literacy.

Teaching the standards of journalism

In educating students about media literacy, it’s also important to help them understand the difference between fake news and misinformation, such as a mistake in a news story, Reyes said.

“The landscape for young people is very different from ours,” he said. “But a lot of us don’t adapt to the world of education fast enough to say, ‘Hey, we have to actually teach young people what news is like, why it matters, what the standards for quality journalism are.’ ”

Panellists disagreed on whether students should be coached to consult multiple sources to find out if a story is real.

“We’re doing ourselves, not just the students, a disservice by saying we need multiple sources,” said Culver. “That’s unrealistic.”

She argued that people don’t have time to look for multiple news reports to corroborate each story. But Reyes disagreed, saying that searching multiple sources for emotionally charged stories should be a worthwhile goal, even if not achievable every time.

“This is what we need to teach our young people to say, ‘Look, this is so important in order not to spread misinformation that you have to take the extra 30 seconds or minutes, or even, God forbid, two minutes to find out whether something is right or not, ‘”Reyes said.

It’s hard to say how many schools are teaching their students media literacy, Culver said, but she hopes university teacher training programs will support this type of education.

Panel moderator, USA Today’s education writer Greg Toppo, asked if media literacy teaching could prove problematic if parents asked if a teacher with a political agenda comes to these classes.

Chao said she had gained some trust in the district and with parents, but more importantly, she heard that the lessons around analyzing messages are being passed on from her students to her parents, which are also some of the traits real Not knowing journalism.

“You have the blue tick?” Toppo joked. “I have the blue check mark,” said Chao.

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