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Media Literacy is C.R.A.P.

C.R.A.P. That’s what kids see on the board on the first day of their Cyber CivicsMedia Literacy for Positive Participation" course. It gets their attention. Believe me.

I learned this handy acronym in the book, NetSmart: How to Thrive Online (2012) by Stanford University Professor, Howard Rheingold. At the beginning of “Chapter 2: Crap Detection 101: How to Find What You Need to Know, and How to Decide if its True,” Rheingold quotes Hemingway,

Every man should have built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him.

-Ernest Hemingway, 1965

This is the essence of "media literacy." Like its sister terms—digital literacy, digital citizenship, information literacy--“media literacy” isn’t well understood. You’ll find a detailed definition and description of this 21st century skill on the NAMLE (National Association of Media Literacy Education) website. On CyberWise, our Media Literacy Hub provides a load of “media literacy” resources and information, as well as our short definition,

“Media Literacy is knowing how to critically consume and produce media messages.”

But boring terms and definitions aside, how can we make “media literacy” matter to kids?

Tell them it’s C.R.A.P.!

Kids today are bombarded with media messages, via their smartphones, computers, tablets, television, and more. In this newly networked world, anyone, anywhere can produce and publish just about anything and thus be viewed as an instant expert. It’s hard to cut through the, well, crap. That’s where Rheingold’s handy acronym comes in. It helps, no actually it is ESSENTIAL, to give kids the tools to accurately assess online information. That’s why I teach them to give online information Rheingold’s four-part test:

Currency -

-How recent is this information?

-How recently has the website been updated?


-What kind of information is included in the resource?

-Does the creator provide references or sources for data? Or quotations?


-Who is the creator or author? What are their credentials?

-Who is the publisher or sponsor? Are they reputable?

Purpose/Point of View -

- Is this fact or opinion? Is it biased?

- Is the creator/author trying to sell you something?

In Cyber Civics we treat this as a two-part lesson, applying C.R.A.P. Detection skills to a host of

websites that the students are asked to evaluate using the four points above. We revisit the C.R.A.P. test throughout the year, applying it to the all the media messages we evaluate—from gender and race stereotypes, to political campaigns (a wealth of crap there), doctored photos, and much more.

Last year I overheard a student suggesting to her mother to use the C.R.A.P. test to evaluate a questionable email she’d received from a banker in Nigeria.

So in honor of this week—National Media Literacy Week—let’s all start talking about C.R.A.P. Because sometimes it takes a scatological reference to make media literacy matter.

Thank you Rheingold!

To try this Media Literacy lesson in your own classroom, download the lesson HERE.

Please visit the CyberWise Media Literacy Hub to learn more.

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