media education


If you’ve read any report on “fake news” in the last four years, then you’ve come across the term “media literacy” and the calls for its inclusion in public education.

I’ve been teaching media literacy for over 20 years (as an educational consultant), but it wasn’t until former President Trump said the media was fake that people started lending it Warning.

Media literacy means thinking critically about what media you consume. Thinking critically involves asking questions, but it seems that in the information age, most people accept what they read without asking questions, including our students.

In 1999, a study I conducted found elements of media literacy in the education standards of all 50 states. But in 2021, media literacy is hard to come by, mostly because 42 states have now adopted new standards, called core curriculum. South Carolina is not one of those states, and analyzing media messages is not on most educators’ radar screens, but it should be.

A recent study by the RAND Corporation found that 92% of high school teachers surveyed said that “students need to learn to critically evaluate information to check for credibility and bias – this is a critical citizenship skill.”

Check what you read: Have you seen on the Internet the image of students sitting in an art museum, staring at their phones?

It was sent to me by a school librarian who was appalled that the students didn’t notice a famous Rembrandt hanging on the wall behind them. I challenged his conclusion.

Was it not possible, I wrote, that these students were engaged and not distracted? I searched the web where I found that the Amsterdam Art Museum had created an app and installed benches, which made it easier for students to answer questions about the artwork.

This is where the problem lies. Too many people don’t verify or validate what they hear, see or read.

Question the media you consume: I encourage my audience to think about a few simple questions about media literacy, including:

  • Who is the author, creator, producer?
  • What is the purpose of the message (inform, persuade, sell, educate)?
  • Who is the target audience and how do you know?
  • What technique(s) is(are) used to make the message attractive or credible?
  • Who benefits (makes money) from the message?

Consider the advice produced by NPR’s “On The Media” series. Recommended guidelines for identifying fake news include:

  • Red flag for fake news: ALL CAPS, or obviously photoshopped photos.
  • Check an unlikely story by finding a reputable outlet reporting the same.
  • Check the date. Social media often resurrects outdated stories.
  • Read past headlines. Often they bear no resemblance to what is underneath.
  • Check the domain. Fake sites often add “.co” to trustmarks to steal their shine. (i.e.: “”)

How do you ensure that the next generation of students have the skills to think critically about what they read? One answer is to ensure that public schools make media literacy a priority.

During the SC’s 2021 legislative session in January, a media literacy bill was introduced by Richland Rep. Seth Rose. If passed, it would require the State Department of Education to ensure that media literacy is included in all K-12 classes.

There is a lot of work to do. Until we make media literacy a priority, we will continue to create a media illiterate population.

FRANK W. BAKER is a media literacy expert based in Colombia.

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