News Literacy for Discerning Students

Here’s an interesting US article about a programme being run there to help students to understand how to deal with the vast amount of information and data available to them through the internet.

Edutopia Article – Media Literacy

I have one major reservation – should it be journalists who are tasked with helping children to cut through the verbiage put out often by …… journalists?

It is often suggested that in an effective democracy the media represents the fourth critical estate, after the elected government, the civil services and the judiciary. One of the most important tasks of the fourth is to help the people to understand the behaviours and actions of the first three.

However, we see for ourselves with the whole debate on ‘paid news’ (where again the media are trying to tell us what we should think of the media!).

I will always remember a fascinating case study from the time when i was studying information and Communication Law.

UK newspapers, especially the tabloids started reporting cases of dogs biting people, especially children. Within weeks, the tabloid papers were carrying full page lurid photographs of childish innocence marred by vicious facial bites.

The effect was to create an impression that suddenly, over night, dogs had become an out of control menace and no child was safe – as if this terrible thing had just started to happen.

Before long there were local politicians in reported constituencies responding to vociferous demands for action by committing to bring debate and legislation in the parliament. The newspaper editors salivated as they reported on the “public demands” for immediate action, protesters in the streets and outside parliament.

Within weeks hurried legislation was pressed on to the busy parliament timetable and passed with all party support (nobody dared oppose it or question it). The result was that, over night, it became illegal to walk a dog, even on a lead, without it wearing a muzzle. strict punishments of owners, confiscation of pet dogs and compulsory killing of the dogs became the norm.

Within a few more weeks the media were there to tell the public what terrible legislation this was. Now, the front pages were full of heart-rending stories of little old ladies who wept as their dogs were put to sleep – their only crime being forgetfullness to put the muzzle on their dog.

The media had ‘created’ the first story, conjured up a percieved emergency, rallied public frenzy and political pressure leading to weak, irrational and badly drafted legislation. Then they were there to point out the inept outcomes for all. The public were left scratching their heads, wondering how all this could have happened.

So, education systems fail to prepare citizens adequately for the world if they fail to pay adequate attention to media literacy and the thinking skills necessary to be discerning about information. The issue then becomes finding the best way to incorporate this vital learning in to the curriculum for school children.

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