State lawmakers around the country are asking schools to teach students how to tell fact from fiction, as more people turn to online sources for news.
A bipartisan effort has seen lawmakers in several states introduce or pass bills telling public school systems to teach better media literacy skills, which they say are “critical to democracy,” the Associated Press reports.
The effort has received little attention, but has proved successful as new legislation passed in Washington state, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Mexico, with several more states – including Arizona, New York and Hawaii – expected to consider similar bills next year.
“I don’t think it’s a partisan issue to appreciate the importance of good information and the teaching of tools for navigating the information environment,” said Hans Zeiger, a Republican state senator in Washington who co-sponsored the bill there. “There is such a thing as an objective source versus other kinds of sources, and that’s an appropriate thing for schools to be teaching.”
Studies show that while many children view online content every day, they struggle to comprehend it. A recent Stanford University study found that students from middle school to college were “easily duped,” and likely “ill-equipped to use reason with online information,” the AP reported, leaving researchers to warn that “democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish.”
To counter the ramifications, schools are asked to incorporate media literacy into lesson plans in civics, language arts, science and other subjects. Pushing for stronger statewide standards, advocates for online media literacy, like Jennifer Rocca, a high school librarian in Brookfield, Connecticut, worry that some school districts won’t do enough to develop critical skills.
“You should be expected to navigate the internet and evaluate the information no matter where you go to school,” Rocca said.
Supporters are helping lawmakers in several states draft new bills, to be introduced in 2018.
“The combination of social media and misinformation really captured people’s awareness and attention in the last year,” said Erin McNeill, president of Media Literacy Now, a nonprofit based in Watertown, Massachusetts. “It took a long time to get media literacy into the public consciousness.”
Advocates note that the misinformation prevalent during last years U.S. presidential election have helped raise awareness for the issue.
“Five years ago, it was difficult to get people to understand what we were doing and what we wanted to see happen in education and the skills students needed to learn,” said Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, executive director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education. “Now there is no question about the vitalness of this in classrooms.”
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