Can They Read 21st Century Media?

What’s the most pressing issue for our students–our young citizens?

I’ve been considering this for awhile and I believe that it may very well be how effectively they digest, process, and evaluate information in the 21st century.

Take for example the recent case of the ‘barrage of online misinformation’ that started springing up only 20 minutes after the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. We are not simply faced with a sheer large volume of information, but also the complication that some of it is deceptive by design. Outright lies. Some harmless; others much less so. This goes way beyond the ‘media bias’ angle.

For decades schools have taught students–young citizens–how to evaluate sources of information and it’s worked, for the most part. Consider the approach in IB Diploma History: students analyze and evaluate sources by considering the values and limitations of the origin, purpose, and content of primary and secondary sources. Works great in the context of historical settings, but what about in our uber-fluid modern world?

The sand is shifting, thanks to the internet. In fact, a recent study by Stanford found that the skills of a historian (who we would normally associate with credible source analysis) may becoming eclipsed by the skills of fact checkers, who use very different techniques. Is it time for schools to rethink?

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We don’t want our students to fall victim to the gullibility of the cynic; that is, if nothing can be trusted (it’s all ‘fake news’) then we’re more likely to fall for anything. As the author of this blog post notes, ‘if everything is compromised, then everything can be ignored, and filtering is simply a matter of choosing what you want to hear.’ [my emphasis]

 

Many of us came up in an era when the sources were ‘curated’ for us. There weren’t that many to choose from and they were mostly very reliable. I grew up in a small town and we read a couple of local papers, and my parents occasionally watched PBS Newshour or Brokaw. Quality sources–limited in breadth, but strong in depth.

In contrast, our students today are coming up in a fantastic environment of information and opinion dissemination, but I wonder to what extent we, as schools, need to actively empower them–in I&S, L&L, math, science, art–with ways to thinking about where they’re getting their information.

I’m not proposing anything beyond letting our subconsciouses dwell on this matter and perhaps bring us around to some interesting conversation in our professional learning communities. I’ll leave you with some wise words from a colleague’s email I received a few months ago: all articles and statistics vary in the author’s “version” of the facts. All articles must be viewed, researched, and evaluated within the light of differing perspectives for reliability, accuracy, and truthfulness. We all find “shocking facts” to be impressive; but if they are not accurate they may engender harm rather than good.

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