When I was in elementary school, Current Events was one of my favorite subjects. The assignment required my fourth-grade classmates and me to simply scan a few newspapers for articles on recent, hot-button news topics and report on those topics, citing our sources, in class. We only had four or so sources from which to choose, usually: the New York Times, the Daily News, the Long Island Press, the Wall Street Journal, and perhaps the New York Post, but the latter publication was not really considered the most credible source at the time. To me, preparing for Current Events class was fun and not really that difficult. But my years in elementary school was way before the Internet and light years before the media convergence that characterizes our sources for news today.
Thinking about my fourth-grade Current Events class made me wonder how today’s grade-schoolers are coping with this class in the age of Internet hoaxes and news hacks that were simply unheard when I was in elementary school. Back then, the gap between legitimate news and “fake news” was wide and obvious. I don’t remember any classmate bringing in an article from the National Enquirer for Current Events class; he or she would have been laughed at by classmates and harshly criticized by the teacher.
But now we are oversaturated with news sources and the demarcation line between Current Events and Made-Up Events is blurred. How can our children cope? What is the answer?
Some say teaching media literacy in public schools is the answer. Describing media literacy education for school children as teaching them “to apply critical thinking to media messages and to use media to create their own messages,” medialiteracynow.org , an advocacy group for media literacy education policy, also states, “Media Literacy is critical to the health and well-being of America’s children, as well as to their future participation in the civic and economic life of our democracy.”
MediaLiteracyNow.org is joined in their crusade to educate children to be media literate by Medialit.org, which has produced the “Media Lit Kit: A Framework for Learning and Teaching in a Media Age,” an instructional publication on how to incorporate media literacy in formal education.
The nascent push for media literacy instruction in schools across the nation is best summarized in an Associated Press article headlined: “Alarmed by Fake News, States Push Media Literacy in Schools,” (VOAnews.com, Dec. 30, 2017).
Yet not everyone is keen to jump feet first on the media literacy education bandwagon. In an October 1, 2018, Washington Post article titled,“Why California’s new media literacy law could backfire,” Sam Wineburg, the Margaret Jacks professor of education and (by courtesy) history at Stanford University, states in part that today’s kids do need help: “They mistake ads for news stories. They equate placement in a Google search with trustworthiness. They’re blinded by charts brimming with data, rarely asking where the data come from.” However, he points out, “I share legislators’ view that we need to do something. What worries me is that the solutions they propose are more likely to exacerbate the problem than solve it.” Wineburg goes on to elaborate about the importance of utilizing the best, fully thought-out teaching approach to media literacy, noting that “shoehorning an hour of media literacy between trigonometry and lunch is only a stopgap measure.”
Truthfully, the full scope of media literacy is a lot for an adult to comprehend, I’m sort of feeling sorry for today’s school children who’ll have to totally grasp this concept at the ages of 10 and 11.
Makes me yearn for the days when I sat cross-legged on the floor using scissors to carefully cut articles out of the newspaper, eagerly anticipating the next day’s fourth-grade Current Events class.