In the Internet age of unlimited
information, clear truths and facts are often in short supply, a problem frequently exacerbated by
performers in the blogosphere and the 24-hour news cycle. Not only has
the participatory net led to a surge of sites, aggregators, and
blogs espousing different ideologies or values, but rampant
competition among them to be your most trusted source in news.
One must learn to weed out incendiary polemics and agitprop from the whirling
online maelstrom to become an informed and
thoughtful citizen. To better equip
our youth to navigate this fray, we should make media literacy a feature of public education. This would
help young people think critically about media, and turn a discerning
eye to the onslaught of coverage, opinions, and analysis that permeate our increasingly wired culture.
Classes in media literacy
are a pressing need. According to a Pew study, the Millennial generation--people born in the late 1980s and 1990s--are more
likely to engage in new media and thus be more exposed to the
information overload from competing voices. The dependence on the Web
for information is not likely to subside; already, 92 percent of Americans use
multiple platforms to get their daily news, and 61 percent of American adults get news from online sources.
Teaching media literacy can also help close the "digital divide"
between minority and low-income students and their white or more
affluent peers. While the disparity in access to communication technologies has significantly diminished since the Pew Internet &
American Life Project highlighted the issue in 2007, recent studies continue to show vast differences in digital skill
Media literacy courses are the logical
outgrowth of high school civics, where students gain a basic
understanding of American political institutions. Part of their emphasis could be technical,
teaching students how to use news aggregation services, perform data
searches, and fact-check for themselves. The other part may be steeped
in the principles of debate, such as identifying fallacies, or understanding bias. Perhaps a little media sociology
(or a crash course in journalistic ethics) will allow youngsters to look
at the day-to-day digital spats and slugfests in a broader context.
Critics might claim that a
given curriculum suffers from a liberal or conservative bias, or
promotes a certain agenda. But these risks are marginal given the
potential to build a generation that can navigate the media landscape,
without relying solely on the Huffington Post or Drudge Report as their
Electricity bills are confusing, and don't arrive until long after the damage is done. The fix to a system that's high in both costs and headaches lies in connecting consumers to their consumption--show people what they're using in real time, and make it easy to compare costs to kilowatts. Geoffrey Gagnon