How media literacy is key to saving our democracy
[Editor’s note: This post by Alan November, written exclusively for eSchool Media, is part of a series of upcoming articles by this notable education thought leader. Check back on Monday, January 23rd for the next must-read post!]
“Right now, we fear that democracy is under threat from the ease with which disinformation on civic issues is allowed to spread and thrive. … If children are the future, the future could be very misinformed. —Stanford History Teaching Group, 2016.
The fact that 80% of high school students in a recent study couldn’t distinguish between fake news and genuine news on the web shows that we as educators need to do a better job of teaching about it. media education in the digital age. It means to pay equally attention to teaching students how to be intelligent consumers of information as we pay attention to what we filter in our schools.
Across 12 states and 7,800 student responses, the overwhelming majority of our students, from colleges to universities, have been easily manipulated into believing the lies are true or believable. According to NPR’s report on the study, “In exercise after exercise, the researchers were ‘shocked’ – their word, not ours – by the number of students who failed to effectively assess the credibility of the information. “
I’m not shocked. Traveling across the country to visit schools, I learned that many of our students have false confidence in their internet and media skills. In fact, it’s not uncommon for students to laugh disdainfully when asked if they know how to use Google. A fourth-grade student from a high-level private school said to me, “Sir, if you have any questions, you need to know how to use Google.”
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To expose students’ false confidence in their own skills, I will present them with a research challenge that I know will lead to false information in the first page of results. (Most students only look at the first page of results.) The scary part is seeing students’ complete ignorance of any framework to question the validity of their results. The problem is that students don’t know what they don’t know.
I want to be wrong about this, but like the Stanford researchers, I believe we have serious problems. Simply put, we don’t prepare students to make informed decisions when it comes to Twitter, Facebook, Google searches, or web content. Even when students pass our printed reading tests, they are fundamentally illiterate when it comes to web content.