Opinion
Social Studies Opinion

We Need Civic Online Reasoning in Our Schools

By Nancy Flanagan — March 20, 2018 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Did you fiddle with your Facebook privacy settings this morning? I did.

Spurred by righteous anger, I took advice that is popping up online, everywhere, today, in light of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data privacy scandal, to strip away access to freely shared information about my favorite books, Kickstarter projects and shopping habits.

A handful of my friends shut down their Facebook accounts, but that strikes me as a dramatic slamming of the barn door when the horses are miles down the road, probably en route to a nice farm in Russia.

Here’s what I’m wondering, however: Will the newly energized students who have effectively used Facebook and Instagram to organize rallies, walkouts and powerful online conversations about gun violence be tweaking their privacy settings as well? Will the well-funded anti-union oligarchs in this country be planting false stories about teachers’ salaries and performance to short-circuit teacher strikes?

Part of our national chagrin over what happened in the 2016 election and since is, I believe, embarrassment. We’re ashamed that we were taken in by phony news stories. And it’s humiliating to think we donated (without knowing it) a motherlode of personal data to crooked companies, who used it to support our enemies in their campaign to put cracks in the American democratic process.

How did this happen? That’s the focus right now—who to blame, who deserves our anger and retribution.

But what’s more important is preventing it from happening again and again. We have an election coming up in less than eight months. And we have a generation of young people engaged and flexing their civic muscles.

It’s axiomatic among teachers and others who work with teenagers that they are both gullible and reckless when it comes to what they read and post online. Media literacy was a hot topic 25 years ago, and this definition has evolved over time (and with the advent of changing communication technologies and social media): Media Literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms—from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.

It’s not a bad definition but what’s missing is right there in the first sentence: education. Our national focus on ‘accountability'—competing for the best test scores—has completely eclipsed any serious movement, in our classrooms, toward rigorous analysis of the media in which our students are immersed.

We’ve produced a generation of students who can’t evaluate the veracity of Fox News or Betsy’s DeVos’s overcooked statement that ‘we’ve spent billions and billions and billions (on them) with zero results.’ It’s hard to imagine what could be more important than developing the critical thinking skills that facilitate our students’ ability to discern truth from fake news. Media literacy may be in the standards, somewhere, but it’s not on the test, so it gets short shrift in the classroom.

Some good news? MediaWise, a “groundbreaking endeavor aimed at helping middle and high school students be smarter consumers of news and information online.” A lot of students, in fact: The project plans to reach a million students, via a $3 million grant from Google and with assistance from the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG):

At the center of the project is a body of research from SHEG that shows that despite being constantly online, the vast majority of teenagers are unable to correctly evaluate the credibility of online news and information. (Adults didn't do much better, according to Stanford's research). Over the next two years, Stanford will develop a new curriculum for use in schools to teach better information literacy and improve what it calls "civic online reasoning."

Civic online reasoning. That descriptor pretty much sums it up. If we’re going to operate as a democracy, our citizens need to be able to sort out accurate, reasonable, independently produced information from the biased and distorted stuff.

As I write, Facebook has lost an estimated $60 billion in value because they played fast and loose with data privacy. They allowed a treasure trove of incalculable value to fall into the hands of people who used it to damage our national values and political stability.

If we can begin—just begin—to give the next generation some tools to change their information literacy for a measly $3 million, it’s a fantastic bargain.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Social Studies Teachers Rally Against Laws Aimed at Limiting Classroom Discussion of Racism
Some teachers are speaking out against new legislation. But others are holding back, for fear of repercussions.
5 min read
In this Aug. 28, 2021 photo, demonstrators held a rally in Kansas City, Mo. against laws forbidding teaching critical race theory in classrooms.
Demonstrators held a rally in Kansas City, Mo., on Saturday against laws forbidding teaching critical race theory in classrooms.
Photo courtesy of SURJ-KC
Social Studies Opinion Why Do Native People Disappear From Textbooks After the 1890s?
How we teach American history has direct consequences for Native students today, writes a Navajo Technical University professor.
Joshua Ward Jeffery
5 min read
A Native American man sees a vibrant history emerging from a book.
"Tells His Story" by Brent Greenwood for Education Week
Social Studies Explainer Who Decides What History We Teach? An Explainer
Education Week breaks down how politics has long been embedded in this decision, and how new laws may affect the process.
15 min read
Image of books on history.
thomaguery/iStock/Getty
Social Studies Opinion Q&A Collections: Teaching Social Studies
Links to 10 years of posts with commentaries from over 100 social studies educators.
7 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty