To combat the wave of misinformation online, California will now require all K-12 students to learn media skills, such as recognizing fake news and thinking critically about what they encounter on Internet.
Gov. Gavin Newsom last month signed Assembly Bill 873, which requires the state to add media education to curricula for English language arts, science, math and history and social studies, gradually rolling out from next year. Instead of a standalone course, the topic will be integrated into existing classes and lessons throughout the school year.
“I have seen the impact that disinformation has had in the real world: how it affects how people vote, whether they accept the election results, attempts to subvert our democracy,” said the project sponsor of law, Rep. Marc Berman, a Democrat. from Menlo Park. “It’s about ensuring our young people have the skills they need to navigate this landscape.”
The new law comes amid growing public distrust of the media, particularly among young people. A 2022 Pew Research Center survey found that adults under 30 are almost as likely to believe information on social media as information from national media. Overall, only 7 percent of adults have “a great deal” of trust in the media, according to a Gallup poll conducted last year.
Media education can help change that, advocates say, by teaching students to recognize reliable sources of information and the crucial role the media plays in a democracy.
“The rise in Holocaust denial, climate change denial, conspiracy theories taking hold and now AI… all of this shows how important media literacy is to our democracy in right now,” said Jennifer Ormsby, manager of Los Angeles County Library Services. Office of Education. “The 2016 election was a real eye-opener for everyone about the harm and potential dangers of fake news. »
AB 873 passed the Legislature almost unanimously, highlighting the nonpartisan nature of the issue. Nationally, Texas, New Jersey and Delaware have also passed strict media literacy laws, and more than a dozen other states are moving in that direction, according to Media Literacy Now , a non-profit research organization that advocates for media education in primary and secondary schools.
Yet California law falls far short of Media Literacy Now’s recommendations. California’s approach does not include funding to train teachers, an advisory committee, input from librarians, surveys or a way to monitor the law’s effectiveness.
However, keeping the bill simple was a way to ensure its passage, Berman said. These features can be implemented later, and he said it is urgent to pass the law quickly so that students can start receiving media education as soon as possible. The law takes effect January 1, 2024, as the state begins to update its educational frameworks, although teachers are encouraged to teach media literacy now.
Berman’s law builds on an earlier effort in California to bring media literacy into K-12 classrooms. In 2018, Senate Bill 830 required the California Department of Education to provide media literacy resources (lesson plans, project ideas, background information) to K-12 teachers in the state. But this has not made media literacy compulsory.
The new law also somewhat overlaps with California’s efforts to provide computer science education to all students. The state hopes to expand computer science, which can include aspects of media education, to all students, even requiring a high school diploma. Newsom recently signed Assembly Bill 1251, which creates a commission to examine ways to recruit more computer science teachers into California classrooms. Berman is also sponsoring Assembly Bill 1054, which would require high schools to offer computer science courses. This bill is currently blocked in the Senate.
Understanding media and creating it
Teachers don’t need a national law to show students how to become smart media consumers, and some have been doing it for years. Merek Chang, a high school science teacher at Hacienda La Puente Unified in the City of Industry east of Los Angeles, said the pandemic was a wake-up call for him.
During distance learning, he gave students two articles on the origins of the coronavirus. One was an opinion piece from the New York Post, a tabloid, and the other was from a scientific journal. He asked the students what they thought was accurate. Over 90% chose the Post coin.
“It made me realize that we need to focus on the skills needed to understand the content, as much as the content itself,” Chang said.
He now integrates media literacy into all aspects of his lesson plans. He leverages the Stanford History Education Group, which offers free media literacy resources for teachers, and has participated in a KQED media literacy program for teachers.
In addition to teaching students how to evaluate information online, it shows them how to create their own media. Homework includes making TikTok-style videos on protein synthesis for mRNA vaccines, for example. Students then present their projects at home or at lunchtime events for families and the community.
“The biggest impact I’ve noticed is that students feel like their voices matter,” Chang said. “The work isn’t just about getting a grade. They feel like they’re making a difference.”
Ormsby, the Los Angeles County librarian, has also promoted media literacy for years. Librarians have generally been at the forefront of media literacy education, and California’s new law references modern school library standards for media literacy guidelines.
Ormsby teaches concepts such as “lateral reading” (comparing an online article with other sources to verify its accuracy) and reverse imaging (searching online to trace a photo back to its original source or verify if it has been modified). She also offers lesson plans, resources, and book recommendations such as “True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News” and, for elementary school students, “Underwear Invasion killers! How to spot fake news, misinformation and conspiracy theories.
She is happy that the law was passed, but would like to see librarians included in the rollout and for the program to be implemented immediately, without waiting for the frameworks to be updated.
The gradual implementation of the law was deliberate because schools are already grappling with many other state mandates, said Alvin Lee, executive director of Generation Up, a student-led advocacy group that was featured among the sponsors of the bill. He hopes that local school boards will decide to prioritize this issue by funding teacher training and immediately introducing media education into classrooms.
“Misinformation contributes to polarization, which we see all over the world,” said Lee, a Stanford student, who said it was a major problem among his classmates. “Media education can solve this problem.”
At San Francisco Unified, Ricardo Elizalde is a teacher on special assignment who trains elementary school teachers in media literacy. His team distributed 50 copies of “Killer Underwear!” » for teachers to create activities and also encourages students to create their own media.
Elementary school is the perfect time to introduce the subject, he said.
“We get all this media from a young age, we have to learn how to defend ourselves,” Elizalde said. “Media literacy is a fundamental part of literacy. If we simply teach children to read, without thinking critically about what they read, we are doing them a disservice.”