If the last few years have taught us anything, it is this: media literacy needs to be a core subject of student learning.
Everyone is Online
The pandemic shifted millions of students online for learning, entertainment, and social interactions for more extended portions of the day. Students increased their viewing, consumption, sharing, and digital content production. And the creation and sharing of misinformation multiplied in tandem to meet those viewers. Educators recognized these trends and began teaching more digital fluency skills.
Book bans and eBook access restrictions
Two other phenomena occurred in the last year, making the need for critical thinking ever more vital: the rise of eBook consumption among students and the parental rights movement. The proliferation of ebooks allows students to access more titles, reflecting the increasing publication and purchase of inclusive and diverse books. And at the same time, the movement to begin banning books and curtailing student access to eBooks began.
Schools and districts respond to book challenges and student privacy rights in multiple ways: revamping collection development and challenge policies, forming committees, requesting changes to eBook platforms, and, in unfortunate cases, removing books from classrooms and libraries.
There’s no doubt many of our students know what is happening and have strong opinions about it. I believe this will revitalize student reading and discussion because there is a human need to understand why something is censored or restricted. We can use this moment to tap into our learners’ curiosity and inquiry. But we can also use current events to teach critical thinking about information, specifically the differences between informing, persuading, endorsement, and indoctrination.
Information is not Endorsement
The argument for banning a particular book is that its themes, images, or language are inappropriate and offensive, implying that the school is promoting its content by having the book. But having information on a subject is not endorsement any more than having Internet access to information is. Learners need to recognize the difference between informing (giving someone facts) and endorsing (declaring approval). Information is how we build knowledge and understanding. Who should decide what our students learn and how? These debates should be integrated into a robust media literacy curriculum that instructs learners on:
- Distinctions between facts, opinions, and claims
- Types of information, how they are used and why: informative, persuasive, and propaganda
- Author’s purpose and credibility
- Arguments supported by evidence (and what good evidence is)
- Common knowledge, paraphrasing, and summarizing
- Logical fallacies and rhetoric
Misinformation is insidious because claims presented as facts or common knowledge are thrown into the public discourse with no evidence. Allegations are leveraged without proof, putting educators on the defensive. Statements are stuffed with logical fallacies (slippery slopes, false dichotomies, ad hominem attacks) designed to derail essential conversations on school funding, accountability, and learning. Educators are accused of indoctrination (accepting beliefs uncritically) when the purpose of education is the opposite.
So, ironically, by studying current controversies, we can teach our learners to become the critical thinkers that threaten those clamoring for an anti-democratic world.
Let the instruction begin.
Author: Leanne Ellis
I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.