Educators Are Pushing To Teach Media Literacy In School

Supermajority Education Fund

February 25, 2020

According to a recent New York Times report, while many teens and preteens are “technically savvy, most of them fail when it comes to assessing the veracity of news articles and images.” This lack of media literacy has led American educators not only to begin to teach about the topic in their classrooms but to call for the addition of education on the topic to K-12 curricula nationwide.

This is at the core of the nonprofit organization Media Literacy Now’s mission. According to the organization’s research, 14 states currently require that students are taught media literacy at the elementary and intermediate school levels. Erin McNeill, who founded Media Literacy Now in 2013, has worked with state lawmakers to get media literacy bills introduced in even more state legislatures. 

In an increasingly digital world, “media literacy is literacy,” McNeill told Supermajority News. “What we’re trying to do is get media literacy on the public policy agenda.”

The recent Times report observed how a school in Brooklyn has incorporated the type of media literacy McNeill and her organization advocate for into its daily lessons. This school’s curriculum focuses on how to analyze different media messages in age-appropriate ways. For example, in one lesson, the instructor presented students with two pieces of news coverage from the recent Australian bushfires: one focused on the devastation the fires caused, and the other described Australia as mostly unaffected by the disaster.

“With older grades, we get into the understanding that every kind of media has some kind of bias,” McNeill told Supermajority News. “We look at where the bias is and if [a site] is a credible source.” Younger students, on the other hand, are encouraged to consider where their media comes from and from whom. “We talk about the decisions that were made and what’s left out, McNeill said.

McNeill’s work also often requires her to stress the importance of recognizing disinformation to the lawmakers and school board members she meets with. “Even today, a lot of people haven’t heard of media literacy,” she said. “They don’t recognize it as something that has to be taught in schools.”

McNeill’s prior career as a journalist also shaped her views on the need for a media-literate public, particularly when it comes to how women and the issues they care about are portrayed. “Media representation has such a strong impact on our perceptions,” she said. “Representations that are either negative or just not there can have a real impact on women and their advancement.”

Educators who have incorporated media literacy into their classrooms have told McNeill that students usually have opinions about the news they consume and the messages presented to them. “Kids want to talk about it, but no one is talking about it with them,” she said. “Nobody is talking to them about what they saw on Instagram last night and how it made them feel. But they are curious, and they want to understand.”