This summer, the state of Illinois became the first to require a media literacy class for all high school students. It’s a big step forward, and Texas should be next.
Our nation is facing a crisis of disinformation. While pandemic doomscrolling has not demonstrated this clearly enough, there is empirical evidence as well. A 2019 Stanford Study over 3,446 American college students have shown that teens lack crucial information checking skills. Two-thirds of the students in the study couldn’t tell the difference between news and ads on Slate’s website, even though the ads were labeled “sponsored content.” Ninety-six percent of students did not consider why the links between fossil fuel companies and a climate change website could affect the site’s credibility. Instead, they focused on superficial markers of credibility like the graphic design of the site.
Alan C. Miller, CEO of the education nonprofit New Literacy Project, said there is a common and false assumption among adults that because teens are tech savvy they are also aware of current events.
“While students may be digital natives… they are by no means well equipped to navigate this incredibly loaded news landscape they have inherited,” Miller said in an interview with NBC News in May.
Texas is better than most states at promoting media literacy in schools, but we can do better. A 2020 report by media advocacy group Media Literacy Now ranks Texas the third most effective state among 14 states that have passed laws promoting media education for students. The Texas standard, adopted in 2019, defines effort as “digital citizenship” defined as “appropriate, responsible and healthy online behavior, including the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and to act on all forms of digital communication ”. The law requires school districts to include education in this area, but does not specify how much education or at what grade levels. In contrast, Florida, which leads the MLN study, incorporates a media literacy requirement for each year.
To date, the conversation about media literacy in Texas has focused on online dangers like bullying. But as students mature and become interested in news, they will need to be able to analyze more nuanced information. Informed news consumers are able to think critically about things such as original reports, anonymous sources and the proprietary interests of news companies.
Texas should expand its education requirements, and the Texas Education Agency should empower ISDs to partner with professional journalists in their communities to keep the curriculum up to date.
If more Texans take such an approach, we will have better informed civic debates and possibly better political outcomes.