News Literacy and Democracy

Photograph of Woman Holding Her Head while looking at her laptop It seems fitting on the day before the U.S. national election day to review what we know or don’t yet know about teaching news literacy and how that instruction is related to democracy.

Last week during Media Literacy Week, I participated in the University of Maine Fogler Library’s week-long “Friend, Enemy, or Frenemy? News Literacy Challenge.” (It is not too late to participate in this activity. The Challenge links are live and will be accessible into the future.)

Below is a summary of each day’s information and activities and my takeaways.

Day 1: Does News Matter?
On the opening day, participants were asked to identify a news article that piques their interest and categorize it in one or more of these three functions: inform about daily life, report on one or more topical trends, and/or socialize readers/viewers in some way. Reading the range of articles on the comment board was a good exercise in itself. There were a number of COVID-19 articles and a few related to the Supreme Court confirmation.

From my own perspective on 10/26/20 and even though I am currently in northern California and have been under threats of wildfires, I was surprised to note that people found anything besides these two trending topics compelling and competing for their attention!

Day 2: Fact or Fiction
On Day Two, we were given four “news” stories to “guess” if they were real or fake without doing any research or background digging. This reminded me of guessing on a standardized test. I thought these examples were interesting because they could uncover participants’ biases as reflected in news headlines alone.

We were given sources to review including the Stanford History Education Group’s research: “Educating for Misunderstanding: How Approaches to Teaching Digital Literacy Make Students Susceptible to Scammers, Rogues, Bad Actors, and Hate Mongers.”

Coincidentally, I also received this link from the School Library SmartBrief that day. It totally aligned with the Day 2 activity: “Can Your Students Tell the Difference Between Fact and Fiction?” by Kimberly Rues (EdSurge Columnist).

Day 3: Deconstructing the News
How news stories are constructed is determined and influenced by individual people, organizations, and the cultures in which they are produced. The challenge noted how people (reporters), organizations (policies and priorities in terms of audience/revenue streams), and culture (including format, norms, and values) frame the news.

Challenge: “Find and link to a news story that demonstrates how people, organizations, or culture construct the news. Explain the connections you’re making. How might this affect what gets told and what’s left out of a story?”

Has Hunger Swelled? (In the U.S. During the Pandemic). This American Enterprise Institute (AEI) brief article summarizes research that suggests reports of “food hardship” during the pandemic are based on exaggerated data. (Thanks to John Chrastka at EveryLibrary who encouraged Lilead Project Fellows and Mentors to regularly read outside their bubbles, I have been receiving and reading the AEI digest for several years now.)

The AEI has a reputation for being pro-business and suspicious of reporting that shows the growing wealth gap. The .pdf file that includes AEI’s research is intended to add credibility to their perspective. Their conclusion: “We believe the share of households with insufficient food over a month is closer to 5 or 6 percent than 12 percent. Six percent is higher than at any point in 20 years.”

As a former educator who continues to see how our local school district scrambles to feed kids during school closures and as a contributor to local food banks, my own experience makes me question the validity of AEI’s “research” and “reporting.” The fact that they even use the word “believe” suggests that reliable data is really not available. As a result, I “believe” AEI would prefer to underreport food insecurity at this time when congressional decision-makers are considering pandemic relief funds.

Day 4: Deconstructing Bias
For this day’s activity, we were asked to compare two headlines and articles—one from CBS News, the other from the Washington Examiner. My practice in determining which reading news articles I will take the time to read involves reading both the headlines AND the first sentence (or two) in the article. If there is a disconnect between the two, I am inclined to not read on (unless it is so outrageous and I am in a “mood” to confirm my bias). In this case, the Washington Examiner reporter lost my readership for a sensationalized headline that misrepresented his own topic sentence.

On day 4, we were given two videos to watch: “Why Do Our Brains Love Fake News?” a video that describes cognitive bias.

How news feed algorithms supercharge confirmation bias” by Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, which focuses on how online data collection shapes the “news” that we are fed in our online searches.

Day 5: Constructing the News
On the final day, we were given a scenario, a series of photographs, and an assignment to construct a headline for a specific news outlet. I was assigned the Wall Street Journal. I used the WSJ’s news bias rating from Allsides.com to justify my headline and photograph selection.

As they did with their August, 2020 Racial Justice Challenge, the News Literacy Challenge organizers at the Fogler Library asked participants to complete an anonymous online survey.

Connection between News Literacy and Democracy
I suspect that, like you, I am not alone in my concern for the present and future of an informed electorate. Participating in the News Literacy Challenge with educated adults was illuminating. Participants’ understanding of news bias was wide ranging and their comments were not always as informed as I would have hoped.

The Pew Center conducted a nonscientific canvass based on a non-random sample of the individual tech leaders who responded to their query: “Tech Experts Say Digital Disruption Will Hurt Democracy.”

As reported in the article, Christopher Mondini, vice president of business engagement for ICANN, summed it up for me: “The decline of independent journalism and critical thinking and research skills resulting from easy reliance on the internet make citizens more susceptible to manipulation and demagoguery.”

Bottom Line:  We need U.S. and global citizens who will make informed decisions when we vote, take action, and influence the course of our collective future. We, in K-12 and higher ed, have work to do.

Works Cited

Anderson, Janna, and Lee Rainie. 2020. “3. Concerns about Democracy in the Digital Age.” Pew Research Center, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/02/21/concerns-about-democracy-in-the-digital-age/

Berry, Alan, Judith Rosenbaum, and Jen Bonnet. 2020. Friend, Enemy, or Frenemy? News Literacy Challenge. University of Maine Fogler Library. https://libguides.library.umaine.edu/c.php?g=1062054&p=7722052

Image Credit:
Piacquadio, Andrea. Search: “News Literacy.” Pexels.com, https://www.pexels.com/photo/young-troubled-woman-using-laptop-at-home-3755755/

School Librarians and Election 2020

Image by Doug Cushman: Vote: Make Your Voice Heard #VoteOrTheyWin - mouse speaking forcefully to a lionAs of yesterday, it is 100 days until our national election will be held. The 2020 election provides an opportunity for educators to co-plan and co-teach lessons related to voting in our democracy. As school librarians think about the kinds of inquiry projects, they will plan in collaboration with classroom teachers, I hope civic education will be high on their list of proposals.

Whether face to face or remotely working with civics, history, and social studies educators, secondary school librarians can help students make sense of another aspect of our collective lives this fall—electoral politics! Elementary school librarians can also reach out to classroom teachers who bring current events into the social studies curriculum. And all school librarians can collaborate in the area of English language arts as students write about and present their understandings related to gathering information for civic decision-making and voting in a participatory democracy.

“School Librarians Can Save Democracy”
Last week, I viewed the archive of Michelle Luhtala’s EdWeb webinar called “School Librarians Can Save Democracy.” I appreciate that archives of her more than 100 webinars are available from EdWeb.

If you don’t yet know her work, Michelle is the library department chair at New Canaan High School in New Canaan, Connecticut. I highly recommend Michelle’s webinars. This one in particular is perfectly timed as school librarians are considering how they can collaborate with classroom teachers when school resumes—whether face to face or virtually. (She is offering a follow-up webinar on this topic in September.)

These are my brief takeaways from Michelle’s presentation and resources, which are mostly geared to secondary and college-level students.

Problems:

  • There is a perception that democracy is in jeopardy.
  • Most young adults use social media to access news information.
  • Most people respond emotionally to the news.

Solutions:

  • Promote inquiry and teach young people to think critically.
  • Read with their/our brains not their/our feelings.
  • Cultivate news literacy.

This is Michelle’s News Literacy 2020 link with the supporting resources she provided.

Dear Arizona Voter Writing Contest
Michelle’s presentation and resources make a connection to a project the Teacher Librarian Division of the Arizona Library Association is promoting this fall. We field tested the “Dear Arizona Voter Writing Contest” (DAVWC) in Fall, 2018 and are rolling it out again this year. We are hoping that more school librarians from across the state will participate. And we invite you do to something similar in your community.

DAVWC offers a way for young people to learn more about voting and express their understandings of its importance. Students’ writing can be in any genre—essays, poetry, song lyrics, letters to the editor, opinion pieces—and can be presented in traditional written format or with multimedia tools and multimodal texts.

In the DAVWC Google folder, TLD has provided a selection of resources to teach students about voting that may be most appropriate in upper elementary through high school. Other documents include a sample cover letter to classroom teachers or administrators, fast facts about school libraries, an editable certificate of participation, and the names of current state-level legislators who serve on the Arizona Senate and House Education Committees.

The folder also includes an example with photographs from 2018 provided by Melody Holehan-Kopas. At the time, Melody was the teacher librarian at Norterra Canyon School. She collaborated with 7th-grade humanities classroom teacher Kate Eastburn to coteach this unit.

This is the link to the publicly accessible DAVWC Google folder.

With the passing of Representative John Lewis, civil rights leader and tireless champion for voting rights, this inquiry is particularly timely. Creating opportunities for students to think critically about our democracy is now more important than ever. The civil unrest and protests that continue as I write this blog post call us to help empowered future voters prepare to take action—to learn to speak truth to power through critical thinking and knowledge.

Protecting and exercising the right to vote is fundamental. The voting booth is one way to have our voices heard!

Image Credit
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ member Doug Cushman provided this copyright-free image to SCBWI members in 2018. (I am one.)

Memorial Day 2020

Image: American Flag with Peace Sign

Dear School Librarian Leadership Readers,

Rather than share a post focused on school librarianship on this Memorial Day 2020, I am asking you to read “The First Decoration Day,” an article written by American history professor Dr. David W. Blight that is accessible on the Zinn Education Project.

According to Blight’s research, the first large-scale public event to honor the 606,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War was held on May 1, 1865 in South Carolina, where the war had begun. In Charleston, 10,000 people, most of them former slaves, held a parade on a racetrack, owned by former slaveholders. The parade began with 3,000 thousand Black schoolchildren carrying arm loads of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” They were followed by several hundred Black women carrying baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came Black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other Black and White citizens (Blight).

As Blight notes, “Pride of place as the first large scale ritual of Decoration Day, therefore, goes to African Americans in Charleston. By their labor, their words, their songs, and their solemn parade of flowers and marching feet on their former owners’ race course, they created for themselves, and for us, the Independence Day of the Second American Revolution.”

I have often thought of national holidays as essential learning and necessary teaching if we are to preserve our democracy. For me, this article is a poignant reminder that all of us living in the U.S. today should make a heartfelt effort to know our shared history.

Memorial Day is a time to rededicate ourselves to greater respect, empathy, and commitment to one another—working together for peace and understanding at home and around the globe.

Stay well and safe.
Judi

Work Cited

Blight, David W. 2011. “The First Decoration Day.” Zinn Education Project. https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/the-first-decoration-day/

Image Credit:

Peterson, David. “American Flag Peace Sign.” Pexels.com, https://www.pexels.com/photo/administration-america-art-banner-345092/