Illinois schools should teach media literacy as early as kindergarten

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An elementary school classroom in Chicago.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Earlier this month, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law, passed with bipartisan support, making New Jersey the first state to require media literacy for K-12. Illinois, to its credit, passed a law in 2022 requiring media instruction in high school. That law should be expanded to include younger students.

The most important task in the digital age is to quiet the static and noise from the torrent of information now available, to identify useful information, make rational connections, seek additional pertinent information and draw reasonable tentative conclusions. None of this is easy. It requires a habit of mind that should be cultivated early — no later than kindergarten—and continue throughout life. 

The Illinois law does not confine media literacy to civics courses, but includes art, PE, math — every subject. Why? Need we ask?

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People with years of schooling persist in believing social media lies. It has never been more important to explicitly teach the simple principle of always questioning the source. Kindergartners can understand that two kids may recount two different versions of the same event. Who broke the jar? The perpetrator may tell one story, while another child may tell another. The habit of questioning and verifying will become integrated early into their consciousness.

These days, it cannot be assumed that everyone understands the adage that people have rights to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. When large numbers of educated people believe without any basis that elections are stolen and vaccines are lethal, we have no choice but to move media literacy from the periphery to the center.

Beyond critical thinking, we have other 21st century media literacy problems to address. How can we elevate the importance of local journalism? Students of all ages can be assigned to follow news in their schools and local communities. The internet makes it easier than ever for schools to sponsor media clubs—newspaper (online and print), radio, TV, blogs, and podcasts. A January 2023 episode of the hit TV show, “Abbott Elementary,” shows kids creating podcasts and newspaper stories.

Every teacher preparation program in every college and university should be rethinking education to include methods of teaching media literacy. Higher education should immediately plan free, in-service seminars on incorporating media into every discipline at every level. The New Jersey law is only the beginning. No one can deny we are experiencing a media crisis. If we cannot address it sufficiently and promptly, democracy is in real danger.

Elaine Maimon, Ph.D., adviser, American Council on Education; past president, Governors State University

Renew federal bans on assault weapons

The recently passed assault weapons ban in Illinois is one small step toward gun safety.

We need to renew the 1994 federal ban that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton and supported by presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.

Tom Siebert, Mount Prospect

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January 23, 2023 at 03:10PM

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