In the April 9, 2017 edition of the Washington Post Magazine, Kitson Jazynka reports on how colleges are using “fake news” as a teachable moment. In short, colleges are teaching media literacy as a means of teaching students how to triangulate, or confirm information from multiple sources, as well as look for “bias, missing points of view, misleading slants and economic influences.” See the article for more information.
In the literacy world, this is often referred to as “critical reading” and it is what many reading teachers and literacy professors have been arguing for for decades. That is, students should be taught how to read critically within and across the curriculum starting as early as 4th grade, if not before. Yes, students should be “news literate” but this starts with being able to read critically in each subject area, and to be able to synthesize and evaluate that information.
Students who have figured out the structure and study of each discipline, and how to read critically in those disciplines, fare the best. For instance, I watched as a student participant in my dissertation study visited several Internet sites, rather than refer to his textbook, for the answers to his social studies electronic worksheet. He explained that if each website had the same information, he assumed it was correct. And, the student’s teacher believed this particular skill of vetting information to be more important than obtaining and memorizing “facts” from the history textbook. In this way, triangulation from multiple sources allows students to synthesize and evaluate information (and perhaps get closer to the truth) than with a singular book of facts. This seems obvious but this skill is not taught in most classrooms. Yet this is the basis of critical reading. And, one that should be taught explicitly from elementary to high school, in every subject. If this were the case, we would not need to worry about our students being subject to “fake news.”