At Media Literacy Now, we believe that policy change paves the way to ensure essential critical thinking skills around all types of media are being integrated into classrooms across the country. That’s why we’re thrilled to announce that Washington state has just passed legislation to elevate media literacy as a priority in the schools.
The law creates a process for all stakeholders to engage in “an ongoing discussion of safe technology use, internet use, digital citizenship, and media literacy.” With this new law, state-level educators are empowered to develop best practices and implementation strategies for teaching literacy that encompasses both new media and new technologies, and that incorporates internet safety.
Media literacy is the ability to evaluate and communicate messages in multiple formats. Digital citizenship refers to safe, responsible and ethical use of technology such as social media.
As pediatrician Victor C. Strasburger, M.D. said in a recent interview with the Consortium for Media Literacy, media literacy should be seen as equal to reading and writing and math in schools, because, “to function in the next 100 years, you have to know how to deal with a variety of different media, and kids simply don't know how to do that. If they knew how to do that, we wouldn't be dealing with cyberbullying and sexting and all the other kind of health issues that we are still having to deal with.”
Throughout the country, parents, teachers and concerned citizens are sounding the alarm about the urgent need for education that allows students, and all people, to use today’s media safely and effectively. Lawmakers in many states are responding, as they have in Washington, and momentum is building.
In Washington state, Media Literacy Now worked closely with Action for Media Education to guide legislation through the state house and to the governor’s desk. In introducing the Washington bill in January, Sen. Marko Liias said, “In our increasingly digital age, it’s imperative that parents and schools do everything possible to help young students learn how to responsibly assess digital opportunities and access them safely and productively.”
In 2014, New Jersey passed a law requiring schools to teach safe and ethical use of social media in middle school. Last year, Utah passed a law requiring school community councils to provide for education and awareness on safe technology use and digital citizenship.
“This is an all hands on deck issue. We need to wake up,” said Utah bill sponsor Sen. Keven Stratton.
In Michigan, two bills would increase safe internet education in schools. Rep. Robert Kosowski’s bill calls for digital citizenship education. Rep. Robert Wittenberg is working to pass a bill based on an Illinois law. The bi-partisan bill has 36 co-sponsors.
“It’s important for students to know and understand the power of the internet,” Rep. Wittenberg said.
The Illinois law, passed in 2009, requires lessons starting in third grade on safe and responsible use of social networking websites and other means of communication on the internet.
Comprehensive media literacy education incorporates internet safety and digital citizenship. Florida’s law is the most robust, and requires media literacy to be integrated into all subjects. Florida is also considering separate legislation on the responsible use of social media. Ohio requires the board of education to establish media literacy standards.
Other states considering bills to elevate digital citizenship, internet safety or media literacy as a priority in schools are: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. See what's happening in your state.
What can you do? You can take action now by finding your state legislator’s contact information on OpenStates.org and calling or emailing in support of the legislation in your state, or asking that your legislator introduce legislation. Or get active with your state’s Media Literacy Now chapter.