Earlier this week my 8 year old daughter and I were sitting at our kitchen table engaged in a highly competitive game of Princess Yahtzee when an campaign ad for the congressional elections came on the TV during the news. Typically commercials are something to be fast forwarded through in our household, but alas, with live TV you can’t skip over those things you don’t want to watch (yet). “Well that was rude,” she commented indignantly on the advertisement. “Why were they so mean?” she asked. While I considered getting into the whole idea of mudslinging and spin, I instead told her that during elections, people aren’t always nice to each other because they are trying to win votes and that everyone has their own viewpoint in different topics but that doesn’t make them wrong, it’s just an opinion. That seemed to appease her for the moment and we went back to the game. However, I know that this is now something that she’s thinking about and she’s wondering about the differnet viewpoints that people have. I know this won’t be our last conversation around this topic, especially as we continue to ramp up for the presidential election. The question is, where will we go next?
In an era where everyone has the ability to publish online, this conversation will get more and more complicated making the need to teach and work with kids of all ages on the ability to recognize bias in all forms of media (not just text based). It will stretch us to think more critically about media literacy and the messages that bombard us daily. How can we know whether that statistic we found is accurrate or if we have just become the victims of spin and convenience? This question will become increasingly more difficult (and important) to address in classrooms regardless of content area. I’m not suggesting that there has to be a dedicated unit in your curriculum to make an impact. What I am suggesting is that it’s important to model your thought process as you work with students and information. How do you determine what is credible information and what isn’t? How do you know that the website you are going to is to be trusted? These are things that we may do naturally as educators and users of information, but we may not draw attention to the process with students. Show them your thinking and reasoning about how you identify bias and evaluate information in your own work so that they can see good examples outside of their own experiences.
As for me and my daughter, I too will try to be more intentional about explaining why she shouldn’t click on the very first result after searching for something. We will have conversations around advertising and the messages that come across in all forms of media and I will do my best to help her filter the plethora of information that she receives so that she will learn how to do it for herself. In the meantime, I’m glad that, even in the midst of a heated Yahtzee game, not all messages will be positive and that she must figure out what works for her.
Here are a few resources for thinking about media and information literacy:
- Factcheck.org – Project from Annenberg Public Policy Center which attempts to monitor the factual accuracy claims made by U.S. politicians
- The Merchants of Cool – PBS Frontline program about marketing and how advertising targets kids – includes teachers guide
- The Persuaders – Another PBS Frontline program around advertising – includes teachers guide
- Media Education Lab – Created to improve digital and media literacy education.
- Newseum – Free online resources based on an interactive museum in Washington D.C. (Click on the Education link at the top) Includes a great module and lesson plan around the 2012 election called Decision 2012.
- Powers of Persuasion – Poster art from World War II
- Information Literacy – from Alan November, author of Web Literacy for Educators