SB 135 – Media literacy as a public education requirement

I’m not even going to pretend to be neutral on this issue, as a journalist, I believe media literacy is important. That said, I’ll try to separate my feelings on this issue more broadly from my explanation of this bill. Since we’re on the subject of media and civics though, I’ll take this moment to link to the last of Capitol Weekly’s series of helpful legislative process explainers.

The Basics

  • This bill came to me as a reader suggestion (I can’t say enough how happy I was to get a reader suggestion–if you have a bill you’d like me to cover, please email me!): SB 135 by Senator Bill Dodd. This bill would require California public schools to teach their students media literacy.
  • The bill defines media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, develop, produce, and interpret media and encompasses the foundational skills that lead to digital citizenship.”
  • I define media literacy as the ability to read and understand news, discerning objective facts from subjective points of view and to think critically about the facts that you learn.

Who to call

 

In Depth

While the term ‘fake news’ seems to have lost all meaning at this point, the phenomenon it evokes is still relevant. The public has lost both its trust in the media and its ability to consume it critically. The issue is something I’ve researched pretty extensively as a member of the press. It’s complex, but it seems that even in cases where someone has the insight to see if an article is factual, they seek online environments and forums that only circulate the facts that confirm their opinions.

It’s probably obvious that I think improved media literacy is a good idea, but I’m not in the business of endorsing bills, so I have still have questions.

  • Is this the best way to improve public media literacy? Using public schools as an avenue seems logical, but it could be costly, and it neglects the lack of media literacy among educated adults. Having attended California public schools, I know my teachers struggled to educate us while keeping to the curriculum that would be tested by a fairly pointless state test under dwindling budgets. Is it fair to add this expectation to their already heavy burden? How do teachers’ unions feel about it? How do parents feel about it?  Is there another, better approach?
  • Who controls the curriculum? One of the biggest obstacles standing between us and a more media-literate society is bias. How can we guarantee that those who design the curriculum won’t create a bias towards the sources they prefer and a mistrust among those they disagree with? The truth is that the truth is complicated. Knowledge is fraught with power and history, and we should consider that as we legislate how it’s consumed.

The text of the bill is here, read it and form your own opinions, and you’ll already be on your way to a heightened level of media literacy.

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