Brief # 56 Education Policy
Media Literacy in Schools
By Emily Carty
March 12, 2021
As of 2021, 14 states have passed some sort of legislation related to Media Literacy. The Majority of these states passed the laws in the past few years, signaling the growing interest in monitoring the media’s influence on society through increasing society’s ability to sift through the media’s information. Youth today are engaged in digital media, and therefore media in general, even more than in previous generations. With the political process playing out on a screen, sensationalist or “fake news” plastering social media, and real, extensive studies into the benefits of being media literate — society today is coming to terms with the dangers of media illiteracy.
This topic of teaching Media Literacy in schools is multifaceted. Its moving parts include: changing landscape of digital media; abilities to use and access to technology and other forms of media; the known and unknown influence that misinformation has on the political process and society at-large; and of course, the resources and support to teach media literacies and critical thinking for the modern world in schools.
On media literacy in modern times the New York Times suggests that, “in a digital age, media literacy also includes understanding how websites profit from fictional news, how algorithms and bots work, and how to scrutinize suspicious websites that mimic real news outlets.” Not to mention, it involves teaching critical thinking, research, self-reflection — not all of our news and media will align with our beliefs. The presence of partisan, extremist, and conspiratorial media outlets, as well as mainstream social media platforms, have proven to attract millions of people who wish to read the things they want to believe, and research suggests that “fake news” travels farther and faster than less sensationalist, fact-checked news. This goes to show that unless algorithms and media sources provide all readers with multiple perspectives — and unless those readers are prepared to come into contact with perspectives differing from their own — our media-consuming society will continue to lean toward media aligned with their own perspectives.
While it may be daunting to combat media illiteracy, small, everyday practices and school assignments related to analyzing digital media, thinking critically, and following the source will teach students from a young age the value of asking questions and thinking critically about representation and identity in the media.
For students who spend several hours per day consuming non-print or non-academic media, schools have an opportunity to validate and even curb this form of media consumption through cultivating critical-thinking skills. If schools and states were to implement a curriculum that analyzed Facebook ads or Instagram “news” stories, it would give youth the opportunity to learn valuable skills in a way that is meaningful and relevant — rather than solely analyzing literature or poetry, which is also important.
A growing interest in media literacy over the past decade, and especially the past few years, has produced a handful of important studies analyzing young peoples’ competencies around media. A study sampling over 200 kids nationwide suggests that increased literacy in digital media — civics-related media and digital-engagement practice in this case — correlates with increased political participation. Other studies with larger samples have demonstrated that digital media literacy improves other learning indicators and health outcomes and even simple games and supportive teachers can improve young peoples’ ability to think critically about media.
Media literacy is more than just being able to spot “fake news.” It is about thinking holistically, thinking critically, and being able to recognize how different forms of media work and their impacts. Schools have a duty to prepare kids for adult life, and to be a prepared adult in democratic society we must be able to think critically and advocate for what we believe. To ensure a modernized curriculum that promotes media and digital literacy, we need legislation and common core standards — as well as buy-in and policies on a local level — that particularly address these issues.
Media Literacy Now — This group has toolkits for media literacy education implementation, provides templates and examples of legislation around media literacy education, and connects you with tools to start a chapter, reach out to representatives, or learn about the status of Media Literacy Education near you.
Common Sense Media — In addition to providing overviews of popular sites and games for kids, as well as collecting resources for teachers, Common Sense Media has a page dedicated to Advocacy work. Keep up to date on advocacy around media literacy, learn about actions you can take, and reach out to your representatives for applicable actions.
Youth Voices – This platform is used by schools and individual young people to interact with and create media that is relevant and insightful. Check out their posts, resources, best practices, and discussion questions to support youth voices or to encourage a young person you know to participate.