‘Trust Me’ shows how schools can teach students to think critically about information and media
A documentary airing on PBS paints Durango’s Mountain Middle School as a success story amid an avalanche of misinformation and disinformation leading to polarization in the United States and abroad.
“Trust Me,” a feature-length documentary by Oscar nominee Roko Belic and the Getting Better Foundation, tackles global media illiteracy, exploring how the manipulation of information and the growing border blurred between fact and fiction threaten to undermine trust in society.
Mountain Middle School and its technology policy and media literacy efforts provide a successful model for educators and parents trying to teach the next generation how to consume media critically.
“It is important to learn media literacy because there are real consequences. There are real crises that have happened as a result of misinformation,” said Rosemary Smith, impact producer for the film and executive director of the Getting Better Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to promote the societal trust through education and truth.
“Great thinkers and people try to answer the question: What causes (the ills of our society)? And they say resoundingly, ‘It’s media literacy.’ “, she said. “Until we all embrace some form of media literacy, we cannot consume the news without it causing trauma.”
In “Trust Me,” Belic, director of the documentary “Genghis Blue,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2000, and the Getting Better Foundation use six stories from around the world as case studies of misinformation and education for media, which Common Sense, a non-profit organization, defines as “the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they send.”
In India, a man is beaten to death after villagers misidentify a group of tech engineers during a picnic in the countryside. Russian trolls are stepping up a disinformation campaign against the United States, and in another story, a New Zealand couple’s son nearly dies of tetanus after refusing to vaccinate their children, fearing reports that vaccines cause tetanus. ‘autism.
Mountain Middle School in Durango stands out as an example of the positive steps educators and parents are taking to fight misinformation and teach young people how to think critically about media and technology.
“It’s so easy to focus on the negative and bring people down with this unhappiness and sadness, and be part of the problem,” Smith said. “We wanted to be part of the solution. We want to highlight those who are doing good work and (show) how others can emulate them. That’s how we learn. »
After Shane Voss took over as head of Mountain Middle School nine years ago, he banned the use of cellphones inside the school. After also investing in a media education program, students’ academic achievement has improved.
“By removing the phones from the school day, I believe the level of engagement and academic excellence has become the foundation of our school culture,” he said.
An article about Mountain Middle School’s mobile phone policy in The Denver post caught the attention of Colorado Public Radio, which then lured Belic to the school, Voss said.
For the documentary team, the school’s strict approach to technology and its parallel media literacy program, which are rare among schools, were a revelation.
“They went out and shot a bunch of footage of our culture and our climate and school without the kids using phones throughout the day,” Voss said. “It was a normal day for us, but for them it was in an extraordinarily positive environment that they captured on film.”
The documentary’s focus on media literacy is a message that Voss hopes the school can share.
“Information literacy is a standard that we teach at our school, and I think it’s the most important standard,” he said. “…Children need to figure out how to decipher what is fact and what is truth in a world full of misinformation.
“This is the most important topic that we have to stop and really analyze and think deeply about if we want to have a better future,” he said.
Voss shares a sense of pride not only that Mountain Middle School was featured in the film, but that it was billed as a success for teaching a new generation of young people how to critically analyze information and the role that the media play in society.
“I’m really proud because they did our school’s ‘Here Is Hope’ case study,” he said. “Here is a school that does hopeful work with children and has a proven track record.”
Although the documentary was released in 2020, its national appearances on PBS remain exhilarating for Mountain Middle School.
“It’s really exciting to have a school here in Durango featured in something that’s being shown all over the United States right now and probably all over the world here soon,” Voss said.
“Trust Me” has already made appearances at film festivals across the country and won numerous awards, including Best Documentary at the Montana International Film Festival and the IndieFEST Film Awards.
The Getting Better Foundation, with the help of the Knight Foundation and the News Literacy Project, two nonprofit journalism and news organizations, brought the film and its educational program to 40,000 schools in the United States in 2021. , Smith said.
They are now looking to send these materials to educators in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Canada to help strengthen media literacy, Smith said.
The 91-minute film airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on Rocky Mountain PBS.