Media literacy

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

Amid a new era of widespread disinformation about elections, the COVID-19 pandemic, and vaccines, some states are backing down: Illinois recently passed a law requiring high schools to teach media literacy.

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

Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, Illinois high schools will teach students to learn to analyze and communicate information from a variety of media including digital, interactive, audio, visual, and print.

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

The law also asks students to examine how the media affects the consumption of information as well as its impact on human emotions and behaviors. A civic education and social responsibility section allows students to engage with each other in thoughtful, respectful and inclusive dialogue.

The bill was passed by the General Assembly almost exclusively along party lines, with just three Republican senators voting in favor. Governor JB Pritzker, a Democrat, enacted the bill on July 9, 2021. He amends the state’s school code to add media education to the already required computer literacy mandate.

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

AISLE President Mary Jo Matousek said The Progressive that his organization has fought 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 conclusions damaging. just search for it on Google, ”says Matousek. “They think that’s all there is to research. It is not the case at all. Not everything on Google can be trusted.

Matousek, a librarian for 33 years, taught media literacy to fourth, fifth and sixth graders. She tells the story of one of her lessons on the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

One website a student was using was fine, she said, but one accessible from home was “published by, I believe, a neo-Nazi group.” So it was not the same information at all.

She says media literacy is not just about finding information, but also evaluating it and asking yourself, “Who is disseminating the information? It includes teaching methods to help students understand views, reports, opinions, use of facts and context.

Of the two million students in Illinois’ 908 public school districts, 96 percent have access to a school library media center, according to a 2004 ILA report. However, 16 percent of Illinois school libraries do not. have no staff and 35 percent of managers have no training in library science. Schools that have qualified libraries and librarians often do not have the budget for databases. The annual budgets of 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.

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

“We have repeatedly called on the state to level the playing field by subscribing to certain databases, so that students across the state have access to the same information,” said Matousek. “There is no way you can afford everything you need to buy. “

Illinois’ Media Literacy Act, part of a wave of progressive legislation in this Democratic-controlled Midwestern state, passed the House, 68-44, without a single Republican voted for it. In the Senate, the vote was forty-two to fifteen, with three Republicans voting for and fifteen against.

The bill’s chief sponsor in the Senate, Karina Villa, said her fellow Republican who voted in favor are “reasonable people” who want to ensure that “their constituents and future generations are well informed.” But other Republicans were scathing in their condemnation.

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 “enter our school systems at one point. young age and teach them the ways of mainstream media. . “

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

“I have a lot of Republican family and friends,” she said. “One of the things that unites us is wanting to make sure we have a quality education for our children. When we were students we knew where the fiction section was and where the non-fiction section was.

It’s not just adults who want students to know the difference between fact and fiction. Elijah Libretti, 15, my bonus son who is in second grade at Senn High School in Chicago, says he thinks a media literacy class would be a good idea.

“Since Donald Trump and the ‘fake news’ people I know believe a lot of things that are not true,” he said, adding that now is the time to demand media literacy.

“There is so much motivation to do propaganda because of the political situation,” he says.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which is engaged in a battle with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) over COVID-19 safety standards and protocols, has not taken a position on the Children’s Education Bill. media, said Kurt Hilgendorf, legislative and policy officer at CTU. director.

However, he said, the union has “long experience” in supporting various “teaching unit” initiatives, such as Black, Asian, Latinx and LGBTQ + history, similar to “l Illinois consumer education requirement or Constitution test requirement. ”

Hilgendorf says developing lesson plans is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Teachers who tend to be highly skilled in curriculum development and student engagement will take the core ideas of the state and expand them.

Students of color make up more than half of state and CPS students, and the curriculum should reflect the “students we serve,” he says. “We need to make sure that a wide variety of perspectives are included, not just what would appear on Fox News.”

Hilgendorf links Illinois Republicans’ opposition to new law to national GOP’s rush to “whip” its base to “oppose something,” including mask warrants, vaccines and their favorite target: critical race theory.

What these people represent is much less clear, he says.

As for Illinois becoming the first in the country to demand media literacy, Villa has a message to the rest of the country: “I hope the other forty-nine will jump on it and say, ‘Let’s do it too.’ “

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