Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in 1947, “Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.”(1)
With the attack on the Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021, and the evidence that misinformation played a role in inciting the attackers, there has been a renewed call for the need to teach media literacy in our schools–a call to teach students to “discern the true from the false.” In the Forbes article “Capitol Attack Is Dire Sign of a Need for Media Literacy,” Helen Lee Bouygues says that more media literacy education is needed to maintain our democratic system.(2) Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-CWA (Communications Workers of America) wrote that media literacy education “should be required” in our schools.(3)
As stated in the Engage and Include Shared foundations in the AASL National School Library Standards, school librarians teach how to evaluate information and media and how to evaluate a variety of perspectives.(4) School librarians teach media/literacy information literacy skills to their students and teach students to value multiple perspectives.
Yet, as Jennifer LaGarde, co-author with Darren Hudgins of Fact vs. Fiction: Teaching Critical Thinking Skills in the Age of Fake News (2018) and the upcoming Developing Digital Detectives (2021), pointed out in a Twitter thread “It’s almost as if the systematic dismantling of #schoollibraries over the last several decades led directly to a populace that lacks a basic understanding of information literacy, civic responsibility and human empathy.”(5) Yes, the number of school librarians has dropped. In the SLJ article “School Librarian, Where Art Thou?” Keith Curry Lance reported a loss of more than 10,000 full-time school librarian positions (or 19% nationwide) between the years 1999-2000 and 2015-2016.(6)
Thus, as advocates call for the necessity of media literacy education, we must keep reminding all involved that school librarians teach these skills and that more school librarians are needed across the nation. As a step in this direction, in June 2020, AASL joined other education associations including the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) to form the National Media Literacy Alliance(7). his alliance agreed to work together to ensure that students have the critical thinking skills necessary to assess information and media.
And although we need more school librarians, those of us currently working in the field also need to reexamine our information/media literacy lessons to make sure that we are using the latest best practices. In the blog post, “Enough with the CRAAP, We’re Just Not Doing It Right,” Joyce Valenza points out the research shows that teaching students acronyms like CRAAP for website evaluation or teaching rules like “.org” is more reliable than “.com” is not working.(8) The Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) followed up on their widely reported 2016 research with a new study in 2019. In their report of the study of students’ website evaluation skills, they noted, “The results—if they can be summarized in a word—are troubling.”(9) Nearly all students floundered in the evaluation tasks of the study and 90% received no credit on four of the six tasks.
From this research, the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) developed the Civic Online Reasoning (COR) Curriculum. There are three questions that are key to COR: 1) Who’s behind the information? 2) What’s the evidence? 3) What do other sources say?(10) Teaching students “lateral reading,” which is checking what other sources have to say about your source, is an integral part of this curriculum. SHEG recommends teaching students to think more like fact-checkers.
Mike Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University Vancouver, has developed an online curriculum “Check, Please! Starter Course,” which can be customized by teachers.(11) This curriculum is based on his SIFT model: Stop, Investigate the source, Find better coverage, Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context. These “four moves” also incorporate lateral reading.
When Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in his college newspaper about the need for education to enable individuals to discern fact from fiction, the internet and social media did not exist. In today’s information-rich world, there is a heightened need to teach media literacy skills to our students. As school librarians, I believe we need to keep advocating for equitable access to school librarians across the nation in order that all students have the experience of information literacy lessons taught by school librarians. I also believe that as school librarians we can take a look at our information literacy lessons and make sure that they are reflecting the recent research and best practices.
- AASL. 2018. National School Library Standards for
Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago: ALA.