Illinois has become the first state in the nation to require media literacy to be taught in schools thanks to the tenacity of a Naperville Central High School alumnus.
Starting this school year, Illinois high school students are learning to decipher fact from fiction through lessons mandated by law. Lessons cover things like how to access information, evaluate media messages and sources, create media, think about media consumption, and use social responsibility to consume media. media in an ethical manner.
Braden Hajer, a 2021 Naperville Central graduate, said his interest in the topic began when he was researching the history of disinformation in the fall of 2020 for his capstone semester project. It was part of the Illinois Global Scholars Program, a certification process that his social studies professor Seth Brady helped develop.
Because the program asks students to suggest ideas for actionable change based on their research, Hajer said the next logical step for him was to develop legislation with a focus on educating high school students. to distinguish “false” information from that which is not.
While investigating other laws that had been proposed, Hajer found bills that had been introduced but never progressed. For the most part, they simply encouraged schools to teach media literacy classes, he said.
Hajer, now a sophomore at the University of Chicago, said he didn’t think most school districts would comply without a mandate, so he drafted legislation in late 2020 and contacted the rep. state Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez, D-Cicero, who sponsored a previous bill.
In March 2021, Hernandez filed an amendment that included Hajer’s suggested term.
While her semester project technically ended in the spring of 2021, Hajer continued to push the bill forward by enticing Naperville-area lawmakers to join as co-sponsors and enlisting witnesses from the districts. schools in the area and the community of Naperville.
The bill passed both houses in May 2021 and was signed by the governor in July 2021, taking effect this school year.
In a written statement, Hernandez said she was proud of Hajer and her professor for working together on her legislation.
“Their hard work has helped make Illinois a leader in media literacy, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to work with them,” she said.
Many Illinoisans rely on social media as their primary, if not sole, source of news and other important information, Hernandez said.
“Given this trend, it is more important than ever that young people learn to discern truth from fiction and fact from misinformation,” she said.
It’s human nature to want to share an outrageous headline with friends or family, Hajer said, but it’s important to stop and consider what’s being presented before accepting it as truth.
He likes to see high school students see media literacy as more than just something they need to learn and not use beyond high school, he said.
“I think media literacy is something that matters, perhaps more than most other skills for a terminally ill generation,” Hajer said.
Media literacy expert Yonty Friesem, associate professor of civic media at Columbia College Chicago, said everyone, including young people, should understand the impact of media on their daily lives.
Friesem has worked with 90 educators over the past year to provide guidance and resources for high schools to comply with the law’s directive.
What is revolutionary about the Literary Media Act, he said, is that it gives schools the power to implement courses based on an understanding of the community and target audience.
“And so the teacher will adapt that to what works in their community. Media literacy can be done the same way, but the content is different, and that’s where it’s really innovative,” he said.
Media concerns have been raised for centuries, Friesem said.
“If you go back and look at how people referred to newspapers, radio, movies when they were just being introduced…there was a fear of the impact of that,” he said. -he declares.
The same can be said for Socrates, he said. “They were afraid his public speaking would corrupt the youth,” he said.
Hajer said he doesn’t expect every student to come out of school as a media literacy expert, but he hopes some of what they learn will stick with them.
“I hope that even if students come in a bit reluctantly, as high school students tend to do, they come out with some little advice, pointers, clarifications of perspective” and asking questions like why the did anyone write the article, who are they and what are they trying to prove?