California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a bill that will help California students get the training they need to discern legitimate sources of information. The new bill requires the state Department of Education to provide schools with a list of resources and instructional materials on media literacy. Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Mexico, and Washington state have already passed similar legislation, and several other states are considering it. This should go a long way in solving the problem of “fake” news.
I have two things to say about this: Hurrah! and What took so long?
It’s not new news that teaching media literacy, or how to critically evaluate media, is an essential skill that, sadly, most students lack. In 2016, researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education discovered that “despite their apparent social media savvy, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.”
Between January 2015 and June 2016, these researchers gathered data from students across 12 states and found that a majority were unable to discern the difference between actual news, advertisements, and sponsored content. According to the Stanford report:
Our “digital natives” may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped.
This, of course, shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, most adults are easily duped by online
information. But democracy works best when citizens operate from the same set of verifiable facts. And the best way to ensure that future citizens know how to discern fact from fiction is to teach them how to do this while we hold them captive in school.
Thankfully, two organizations have been working diligently towards this end. NAMLE, the National Association for Media Literacy in Education, is the leading voice, convener and resource to foster critical thinking and effective communication for empowered media participation. Media Literacy Now is the leading national advocacy organization for media literacy education policy. This organization has provided much of the muscle behind the bill that was just signed in California.
The CA Bill
I live in Southern California and have been teaching media literacy for nearly a decade. Our school is home to Cyber Civics, a three-year digital and media literacy curriculum now being taught at schools in 41 U.S. states and four other countries. These weekly in-classroom lessons for middle school students teach them digital citizenship, information literacy, and media literacy skills. Our
philosophy is that media literacy is best served upon a foundation of digital citizenship (understanding how to use digital tools safely and wisely). Curiously, there are currently no standards in California for teaching students about digital citizenship (which covers cyberbullying, sexting, privacy, digital reputation management, and more), even though many would argue that these skills are just as important, if not more so, than knowing how discern credible information online.
Regardless, many schools are addressing digital citizenship and media literacy in the classroom, without a new law telling them they have to. The bill just signed will simply make it easier for all schools in California to find resources to do this. the State Department of Education is required to provide on its website, by July 1, 2019, a list of resources and instructional materials on media literacy, including media literacy professional development programs for teachers.
But Please Don’t Wait
There's no reason for teacher to wait until next summer to get a list of media literacy
resources, or to start teaching these lessons to their students. Waiting means that a whole class of seniors—some 1.7 million kids in California alone—will leave high school without the benefit of these lessons. This is unacceptable.
In addition to our own full year of media literacy lessons (the final level of Cyber Civics), here is a list of media literacy resources you can use today. Learn more about media literacy on our page devoted to the topic on this site.