Congress Gives Reason to Teach Media Literacy

Andy Carvin recently posted in PBS Teachers' Learning.Now that Congress has passed a rider to the Broadband Data Improvement Act that requires schools accepting federal funds to give mandatory online safety instruction. Schools receiving federal subsidies will have to provide education to students on appropriate online behavior and cyberbullying. ISTE has praised the move citing that "Education, not mandatory filtering and blocking, is the best way to protect and prepare America's students." While I am sure Congress will provide no funding for such an education program, this is a positive step. Readers of this blog have know that I have been advocating teaching media literacy so students can evaluate information for themselves so they can make better decisions.

I feel Library Media Specialists may have a problem with this move by Congress. Case in point: our seventh grade Language Arts teachers wanted to get a jump on preparing a research paper. This was done in part to prepare students for the writing portion of South Carolina's new PASS test which is given in March. The teachers approached our new LMS about helping with teaching research skills, something our previous LMS would have not done. One move that disturbed me was the fact she restricted students to using DISCUS, South Carolina's website of "approved" information sites on the web. Almost every LMS I know gets very irritated when students go to Google when starting a research project and nearly go ballistic when students land on Wikipedia. They always goad students to use DISCUS because they believe it is the end all be all of online research.

As I observed students using DISCUS while researching their various topics and holding my tongue at the same time. In fact, I was even assisting students in using DISCUS in finding information. The problem I saw was students were not getting enough information to write their papers. It was disturbing to me and students were getting frustrated. Later, I discussed the situation with the teacher of the class who agreed that information was limited but students would go home and use Google anyway. My next thought was, "What about the students who don't have Internet connected computers at home?"

This project continued to haunt me. Those who have read past posts in this blog know I have constantly advocated media literacy. I feel sites like DISCUS run counter to this need students have. Now before every LMS comes down to Bluffton to string me up we should think about this. Our news media is now becoming one-sided politically, either on the right as many believe Fox News is or on the left as MSNBC is making no secret of its left leaning bias. Unfortunately, our news media would still like for Americans to believe it is "fair and balanced." A print reporter told me earlier reporters need to be objective. That is nice until you are watching either Bill O'Reilly or Keith Olbermann. Then you need to have media literacy skills to properly determine if what they say is fact or opinion (actually it is entertainment). Also, so-called citizen journalism, such as blogging, is growing more and more but not necessarily for the better. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating on whether a blog post falsely claiming Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, had a massive heart attack was a deliberate and illegal attempt to influence stock prices for the benefit of parties unknown. While other online news sources refused to post the erroneous information, CNN's iReport did post the story causing a drop in stock prices.

The moral to this story is students need to see bad information and learn what makes it bad information. Students need to view two news sources with opposite points of view politically and learn how to verify the claims made by the two sources so an informed judgement can be reached. The days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite are sadly over. They have been shoved aside by the likes of Keith Olbermann, Rush Limbaugh, Al Fraken, and Bill O'Reilley who are more interested in getting ratings by any means necessary. It would be sad the next President of the United States was elected because because the American People believed him to be a popular cult icon and not because they examined the issues and chose the candidate most matches their core beliefs.