Sixteen years after the creation of Twitter, and we are still learning how deeply social media has permeated our society. It makes and breaks careers and headlines, it connects us and can irreversibly change someone’s life. So why aren’t public schools tackling it?
Young Americans are spending more time using media than ever before, with the average minor spending nearly eight hours a day on entertainment media, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. With so much of their time devoted to consuming online media, it is essential that schools provide their students with the opportunity to understand the content they consume.
Maybe people fear that teaching media literacy will encourage kids to get too involved in social media, but that fear is already a reality.
What is more dangerous is creating a generation that sees social media as a reliable, safe, and always trustworthy source of information. Fake news spreads much faster than the truth, so it’s imperative that children grow up learning to identify it as it comes.
So how do we imbue our posterity with media literacy? The first step is to make sure students know how to approach any piece of information. If it is a social media post, the first step would be to look at who is making the claim. A user like “IDontLikeBugs3699” is not as reliable a source as the official NBC Twitter. The next step is to validate the information with prior knowledge and compare it to other sources.
However, media literacy is more than just fact-checking. True information can be used as maliciously as lies. Contextualizing information is therefore an imperative step in any media literacy lesson. Statistics can have confounding variables that skew the results and inappropriate examples can be given in a news story – not everything is as it seems.
Advocating for students to question the information they receive will make them smarter and more independent, without needing to overly guide their learning. It could also push them to seek knowledge for the sake of their own education.
Part of what makes teaching media literacy so great is the possibility of cross-learning. A history teacher can give a brief media literacy lesson before a unit on the history of free speech. An English teacher can make connections between checking sources of information online and collecting sources for an essay.
An art teacher can follow the lessons imparted by media education to help students understand how advertising uses attractive visual design to deliver information. Learning to approach the media in a healthy way is a clear victory in all areas of thought.
Beyond how a thorough media education can help build a student’s intelligence, media literacy will also help contain the overuse of entertainment. Learning how social media algorithms are designed to radicalize and create obsession or how to analyze a variety of media content can be paramount in preparing generations for a better quality of life.
The hardest part of teaching media literacy in public schools will be finding the necessary support. In a country where states don’t allow students to say “gay” in schools, advocating for the enemy of ignorance is an uphill battle. Funding is the most sacred resource in school districts, and many will be unwilling to part with even a penny if it could be spent elsewhere.
It’s not far to hope for this next step in modern education. Many schools already have courses on cyberbullying and a side step to teaching how to engage with information online isn’t too long. Whatever the circumstances, pushing to teach media literacy is a war worth fighting if it means giving America’s youth the chance to prepare for the digital age.
Featured artwork by Erika Sevilla