Many adults did not acquire media literacy skills in high school. What schools can do now

Children and adults alike are bombarded with questionable information daily, whether it’s fake TikTok videos about the war in Ukraine, targeted ads on Facebook, or climate change misinformation on TV.

The challenge for schools is to prepare students to enter adulthood ready to detect bias and recognize when they are being manipulated.

But, apparently, schools don’t teach these skills. That’s according to a new survey by Media Literacy Now, a non-profit group that advocates for teaching media literacy skills in schools. A recent survey she conducted found that almost half of adults between the ages of 19 and 81 did not acquire media literacy skills in high school. The average age of the respondents was 41 years old.

When asked if they had learned how to analyze science news for bias and credibility, 46% of respondents said no. Forty-two percent said they had learned these skills, while 11 percent were unsure, according to the survey of 541 adults between May and June 2022. Sixty-five percent had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Thirty-eight percent of adults surveyed said they learned how to analyze media messages in high school, such as thinking about how advertising or TV programs affect people’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings or actions. The findings are part of a larger survey of science literacy among adults administered by Media Literacy Now in partnership with the Reboot Foundation.

Interestingly, the survey also found that respondents who said they had participated in high school media literacy were among the least likely to believe in conspiracy theories.

It is a whole community effort that is necessary and we cannot rely on individual teachers. They have a lot on their plates.

Erin McNeill, Founder and President of Media Literacy Now

Media literacy is more than just knowing how to verify the accuracy of claims, said Erin McNeill, founder and president of Media Literacy Now. Mastering media means understanding how the media system – which includes television and digital or print news, social media, advertising, podcasts, video games and anything that conveys a message – works to shape us as as individuals and as a society.

“And finally, to be media literate, just as you learn to read and write, you also understand how to create messages with the many tools now available to us,” McNeill says.

Students are online more than ever and misinformation and misinformation are everywhere

There is a growing push among certain sectors of K-12 education on the ground and among state policy makers to teach media literacy skills in schools as the media system becomes more complex and students spend more time online. This means more time to come into contact with misinformation or advertising. These are not new challenges, but they have been supercharged by big data and algorithms, which can strongly influence the minds of people who are not critical thinkers.

Average screen usage for 8-year-oldsoh 18 rose sharply– by 17% – from 2019 to 2021, according to a separate survey published earlier this year by Common Sense Media. Teens spent eight hours and 39 minutes on screens per day in 2021, up from seven hours and 22 minutes in 2019. Tweens, ages 8 to 12, spent five hours and 33 minutes on screens in 2021, up from four hours and 44 minutes in 2019. 2019. Four years earlier, teens spent six hours and 40 minutes using an entertainment screen, while tweens logged four hours and 36 minutes a day.

Boys are on screens more than girls, according to the Common Sense Media survey. Black and Hispanic children use them more than white children, and children from low- and middle-income households use screens more for entertainment than children from high-income households.

Children spent most of their media time watching TV and videos, followed by games, website browsing, social media, content creation, video chatting and online reading .

Over the past two years, time spent reading on screens has remained stable while time spent watching online videos, using social media and browsing websites has increased.

Teenagers struggle to tell ‘fake news’ from real news

Despite being “digital natives,” teens may struggle to tell “fake news” from real news, researchers at Stanford University have found.. In one study, 3,450 students in grades 9 through 12 participated in six exercises testing their abilities to spot false claims about voter fraud, distinguish a news article from an ad on a news website, to spot that a non-profit climate change group had in fact been created. by a fossil fuel group and examine a tweet from an advocacy group.

For each task, at least two-thirds of the students received the lowest ranking out of three levels.

In the recent Media Literacy Now survey, a significant majority of people – 84% – said they support state policies that require schools to teach media literacy skills. Twelve percent were against the idea.

Fifteen states address media literacy in education legislation in some way, according to Media Literacy Now. States do this by either requiring schools to teach the subject, allowing media literacy classes to count toward certain requirements, making resources available to teachers, or creating a media literacy committee. Policy makers can also promote media literacy through education standards.

But, for the most part, the onus is on individual teachers to teach media literacy, McNeill said, a situation that’s far from ideal.

“It’s really important that teachers are supported at all levels,” she said. “Let states build this into guidelines and standards and provide resources to schools. It is a whole community effort that is necessary and we cannot rely on individual teachers. They have a lot on their plates.


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Donnie J. Milburn