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Media Literacy

Illinois becomes the first state to require media literacy courses for high school students

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Amid a new era of widespread election misinformation, the COVID-19 pandemic, and vaccines, some states are pushing back: Illinois recently passed law requiring high schools to teach media literacy.

While many schools in the state and across the country teach media literacy one way or another, Illinois is the first state in the nation to make it mandatory.

Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, high schools in Illinois will provide instructions to students on how to analyze and communicate information from a variety of media, including digital, interactive, audiovisual, and print.

“Since Donald Trump and ‘Fake News’, people I know believe a lot of things that are not true. There is so much motivation to spread propaganda because of the political situation. “

The law also requires students to consider how media affects information consumption, as well as human emotions and behaviors. A civics and social responsibility section allows students to engage in thoughtful, respectful, and inclusive dialogue with one another.

The General Assembly passed the bill almost entirely according to party lines; only three Republican Senators voted for it. Governor JB Pritzker, a Democrat, signed the bill on July 9, 2021. It changes the state’s school rules to add media literacy to the already required mandate for computer literacy.

The Chicago-based Illinois Library Association (ILA) and the Seneca-based Association of Illinois School Library Educators (AISLE) campaigned for the passage of the Media Literacy Act.

AISLE President Mary Jo Matousek tells The Progressive that her organization has campaigned for a literacy requirement for the past three years as librarians have witnessed firsthand the tsunami of misleading information that can lead students – and their parents too – to harmful conclusions. Students in fourth grade and up will “just google it,” says Matousek. “They think that’s all there is to research. That is not the case at all. Not everything on Google is trustworthy. ”

Matousek, a librarian for 33 years, taught fourth, fifth and sixth graders in media literacy. She tells a story about one of her classes that made the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

One website that one student used is fine, she says, but another that was accessed from home was “created by what I believe was a neo-Nazi group. So it wasn’t the same information. ”

She says media literacy is not just about finding information, it is also about evaluating it and asking, “Who provides the information?” It includes teaching methods that help students, viewpoints, reports, opinions, usage of facts and understanding the context.

According to a 2004 ILA report, 96 percent of the two million students in Illinois’ 908 public school districts have access to a school library media center. However, 16 percent of Illinois school libraries have no staff and 35 percent of those in charge have no library training. Schools that have libraries and trained librarians often do not have the budget for the databases. Annual budgets for nearly 60 percent of Illinois school libraries did not exceed $ 5,000 each. The average spending on school libraries in the state was only $ 8,600 each.

While the percentages and budget amounts have changed since then, the need for adequate resources and funding for the school library has not changed.

“We have repeatedly asked the state to level the playing field by subscribing to a few databases so that students across the state have access to the same information,” says Matousek. “You just can’t afford everything you have to buy.”

The Illinois Media Literacy Act, part of a wave of progressive legislation in this Democratic-controlled state of the Midwest, passed 68-44 in the House of Representatives without a single Republican vote. There were forty-two votes to fifteen in the Senate, with three Republicans voting in favor and fifteen against.

The bill’s main sponsor, Karina Villa, says her Republican counterparts who voted for it are “sensible people” who want to ensure that “their constituents and future generations are well informed.” But other Republicans were devastating in their condemnations.

Among them was State Representative Adam Niemerg, who told the media that the bill was “anti-Trump, anti-conservative” and an attempt by the left to “break into our school systems at a young age and teach them the means of mainstream media.” . “

Villa says instead of turning media literacy into a partisan issue, she would “challenge” her colleagues to think about what their own children should learn.

“I have a lot of Republican family members and friends,” she says. “One of the things that unites us is the desire to give our children a high quality education. When we were students, we knew where the fiction department was and where the non-fiction department was. “

It’s not just adults who want students to know the difference between fact and fiction. Fifteen-year-old Elijah Libretti, my bonus son who is sophomore at Senn High School in Chicago, says he thinks a media literacy class is a good idea.

“Since Donald Trump and Fake News, people I know believe a lot of things that are not true,” he says, adding that now is a good time to ask for media literacy.

“There is so much motivation to spread propaganda about the political situation,” he says.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which was embroiled in a battle with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) over COVID-19’s safety standards and protocols, has taken no position on the media literacy bill, says Kurt Hilgendorf, CTU Legislative and Office – Policy Director.

However, he says the union has a “long track record” of supporting various “classroom” initiatives, such as the story of Black, Asian, Latinx, and LGBTQ +, similar to “consumer education in Illinois or the constitutional test requirement. ”

Hilgendorf says that lesson plan development is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Teachers, usually highly skilled in curriculum development and student engagement, will adopt the core ideas of the state and expand them.

Colored students make up more than half of the students in the state and at CPS, and the curriculum must reflect the “students we mentor,” he says. “We need to make sure that a wide range of perspectives are included, not just what is shown on Fox News.”

Hilgendorf combines the Illinois Republican opposition to the new law with the national GOP’s eagerness to “whip up” their grassroots to be “against something,” including masking requirements, vaccines, and their preferred goal: the critical race theory.

What these people stand for is much less clear, he says.

Regarding Illinois, which is the first in the nation to require media literacy, Villa has a message for the rest of the nation: “I hope the other forty-nine will go ahead and say, ‘Let’s do this too.’ ”

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