Because of the title of this post, you probably think I’m advocating to teach students facts and not conspiracy theories, the Flat Earth Movement being a well-known one, along with the moon landing, JFK, etc. And you would be correct: we don’t want our students to believe in lies and conspiracies; we want them to know the truth about important issues, events, and concepts. There are evidentiary facts in this world that everyone can agree on. Imagine if no one could define basic shapes, letters, numbers, or colors – the foundational learning content of early childhood.
We couldn’t function as a society if these facts were in dispute.
But we can see first-hand the corrosive effects of not agreeing or knowing what is true in this age of misinformation, disinformation, deep fakes, misleading content, fabrication, bias, and propaganda.
Media literacy is essential. Even workplaces recognize this.
But we can’t teach media and news literacy without inquiry and critical thinking.
Inquiry is not a line
One of the most powerful ways to understand inquiry is to see it in action:
Inquiry is a circuitous process, a start-and-stop cycle of wondering, evaluation, and reflection. It is not linear. Most educators design school assignments and units with a beginning and end because it makes sense from an instructional standpoint. So, school librarians must insert the inquiry process on a collaborative scale:
· Media Decoding
· Project Zero
|Lesson-Level Inquiry for Teaching media||· ESIFC Lessons
|Unit-Level Inquiry||· Culminating Products
· Inquiry Project Units
|Capstone-Level Inquiry||· Year-long student driven/independent projects|
Critical Thinking is Circular
But what we can do in our teaching, curriculum, modeling, and assessment is teach students to think about the world as a circle. Too often, we present argument and debate as two-sided ends of a line: pro/con, for or against, Team A or B. But this false dichotomy reduces issues, events, and topics to only two possibilities in opinion and understanding. This reductive approach to learning eliminates the complexity, nuance, and multiple perspectives needed to build actual knowledge. It presents a logical fallacy of flawed reasoning – the very rhetorical style favored by those who seek to quash debate and understanding of the world by undermining logic and validity. We can only teach media literacy by designing assignments, units, and learning objectives that build strong background knowledge, multiple perspectives, and reasoning. We don’t want our learners to not become knee-jerk reactionaries ruled by ideology. We must teach them to become truly open-minded in their approach to learning, collaborating, and critical thinking about a circular world.
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.