Equip Students to Separate Facts from Fiction

When students can’t tell the difference between a sponsored ad and a news story, even the education establishment recognizes it is failing to teach media literacy. Recently, the Teachers College at Columbia University held a webinar, “Developing Media Literacy: Teaching Students to Know Fact from Fiction,” to brief New York educators on the essential components of media literacy education and provide resources to equip educators to provide high-quality media literacy education. Media Literacy was defined as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.”

One of the panelists was Numa Khan, a senior at Shaker High School in the North Colonie School District. She movingly explained all the things she wished she had been taught in school related to media literacy. These were:

  • How to interpret sensationalized information
  • Decoding messages from politicians who interpret the same information in a different manner
  • To research institutions and authors to verify credentials
  • More focus on digital media literacy
  • Interpretation of visual formats
  • Continued education on media literacy skills beyond elementary schools

If these things are not being taught in schools, then students will not be prepared citizens.

The panelists and participants agreed with Teachers College President Thomas Bailey’s statement that “Media literacy shouldn’t be a partisan issue.” One panelist said a potential challenge in teaching the subject is parents may think teachers are trying to insert an agenda via media literacy. Thus, he said teachers need to emphasize media literacy is about apolitical skills, not about specific content.

Media literacy requires students to be introspective and check their biases. The panelists observed critical thinking is often strong when students are looking at material they disagree with, but not so much when the material confirms their biases. The goal is for students to become skeptics of all material, evaluating the credibility of all sources of information. Students need these skills to be life-long informed participants in democracy.

A good source of non-partisan media literacy materials is NewseumED. They include the First Amendment as part of their approach, which helps students understand why media literacy skills are so important and necessary in the first place. NewseumED explains “First Amendment media literacy takes aim at a lofty goal: to create citizens who think critically, express themselves effectively, engage openly with diverse viewpoints and effectively balance their rights and responsibilities.”

 NewseumED has developed an entire suite of materials on media literacy including lesson plans, classes, webinars, videos, and quizzes covering the topics of:

  • Evaluating Information
  • Separating Facts and Opinions
  • Recognizing Bias
  • Filtering Out Fake News
  • Detecting Propaganda
  • Uncovering How News is Made
  • Spotting Errors in the News
  • Taking Charge of Your Role

Students need to be prepared today to become the informed citizens of tomorrow. As Thomas Jefferson said, “Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”

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