In response to the growing challenge of misinformation online, California has taken a bold step towards equipping K-12 students with essential media literacy skills. Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Assembly Bill 873, ushering in a new era of education that prioritizes critical thinking and discernment in the face of rampant fake news. This groundbreaking legislation mandates the integration of media literacy into core subjects such as English language arts, science, math, and history-social studies, with implementation starting from the upcoming academic year.
Understanding the Imperative
The urgency of this initiative is underlined by the profound impact misinformation has on societal dynamics, from influencing elections to threatening democracy itself. Assemblymember Marc Berman, the visionary behind AB 873, emphasizes the real-world consequences of misinformation and the necessity of arming young minds with the skills to navigate this complex landscape effectively.
Tackling Public Distrust in Media
Amidst a backdrop of rising public distrust in traditional media, particularly among young people, the significance of media literacy becomes paramount. A 2022 Pew Research Center survey revealed that adults under 30 are nearly as likely to trust information on social media as they are from national news outlets. With only 7% of adults expressing “a great deal” of trust in the media, according to a Gallup poll, there’s a compelling need for a shift in how information is consumed and evaluated.
The Role of Media Literacy
Advocates of media literacy, such as Jennifer Ormsby, the library services manager for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, believe that education in this field can reverse the tide of misinformation. By instructing students on how to discern reliable news sources and understand the pivotal role of media in a democracy, media literacy emerges as a powerful tool in cultivating informed and responsible citizens.
National Landscape and California’s Stance
AB 873’s near-unanimous approval in the Legislature underscores the nonpartisan nature of the issue. While California joins states like Texas, New Jersey, and Delaware in prioritizing media literacy, the state’s approach falls short of some recommendations. Notably, it lacks provisions for teacher training, an advisory committee, librarian input, surveys, or a mechanism to monitor effectiveness. However, the simplicity of the bill is deemed strategic, allowing for swift passage and immediate commencement of media literacy education.
Implementation Challenges and Future Prospects
The bill, effective January 1, 2024, coincides with the state’s curriculum framework updates. Despite the absence of specific funding and comprehensive support structures, the imperative to initiate media literacy education is deemed urgent. Assemblymember Berman’s approach builds upon prior efforts in California, aiming to integrate media literacy into the existing educational fabric rather than creating a standalone curriculum.
Bridging the Gap with Computer Science
AB 873 aligns with California’s broader goal of bringing computer science education to all students. As the state explores ways to expand computer science education, potentially making it a graduation requirement, media literacy becomes an integral component. This synergy between media literacy and computer science aims to equip students with holistic skills essential for the digital age.
While awaiting statewide implementation, individual educators have already been pioneering media literacy education. High school science teacher Merek Chang, for instance, recognized the need for skills to evaluate content during remote learning, integrating media literacy into his lesson plans. Chang’s approach, utilizing resources like the Stanford History Education Group, exemplifies a proactive response to the pressing need for media literacy education.
Librarians at the Forefront
Librarians, traditionally at the forefront of media literacy education, find acknowledgment in California’s new law. Jennifer Ormsby’s role in teaching concepts such as “lateral reading” and “reverse imaging” exemplifies the expertise that librarians bring to the table. While pleased with the legislation, Ormsby advocates for immediate inclusion of librarians in the rollout and the swift implementation of the curriculum.
Empowering Students through Media Literacy
Media literacy extends beyond consumption to creation, as seen in the experiences of educators like Merek Chang. Encouraging students to not only evaluate online information critically but also to create their own media empowers them with a sense of agency and responsibility. This hands-on approach, demonstrated through projects like TikTok-style videos, fosters a deeper understanding of the media landscape.
Looking Ahead: A Call for Local Action
While the gradual implementation of AB 873 is a deliberate strategy, some, like Alvin Lee of Generation Up, hope that local school boards will take proactive steps. Lee emphasizes the role of media literacy in addressing polarization globally and encourages schools to prioritize this issue by funding teacher training and swiftly integrating media literacy into classrooms.
As California embarks on this transformative journey in media literacy education, the implementation of AB 873 signifies a crucial step towards building a generation of critical thinkers. While challenges persist, the commitment to immediate action demonstrates the state’s recognition of the urgency to equip students with the skills needed to navigate the complex digital landscape, fostering a more informed and resilient society.