In response to the alarming rise of online disinformation and its impact on society, eighteen U.S. states have now introduced mandatory "media literacy" education in public schools. This initiative aims to equip students with critical thinking skills and empower them to navigate the digital landscape responsibly. By integrating media literacy across curricula and age groups, these efforts align with the vision of a global society that values truth, inclusivity, and sustainability, while addressing the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The urgent need for media literacy education became evident through personal experiences and significant events such as the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-president Donald Trump. Braden Hajer, a former high school student in Illinois, witnessed how his friend fell victim to extreme ideologies propagated on the internet. Recognizing the potential dangers of social media, Hajer spearheaded a state law mandating media literacy education in public schools.
According to a report from Media Literacy Now, an advocacy group, eighteen states have implemented media literacy education requirements, while dozens of related bills are currently under consideration. However, the group warns that progress is still slow compared to the urgent need for media literacy education.
Erin McNeill, the president and founder of Media Literacy Now, emphasizes that media literacy is a 21st-century literacy skill necessary for fostering responsible digital citizenship. It not only helps students question the accuracy of content but also enables them to recognize biases, combat racism, and navigate the complexities of the digital world.
The focus on media literacy aligns with the growing concern about the civic and health risks associated with social media, which have been further magnified during the pandemic. Both the American Psychological Association and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy have highlighted the importance of social media literacy and recommended integrating it into education to promote well-being and critical thinking.
While tech companies like Google, Meta, Twitter, and TikTok have not responded to the rising interest in media literacy from policymakers, the industry coalition NetChoice, which includes these companies, declined to comment.
In January, New Jersey became the first state to introduce an "information literacy" mandate for kindergarten through 12th grade. Recognizing the need for parents to be informed and navigate the online world alongside their children, public libraries play a significant role in promoting information literacy.
Representative Jim Murphy, a Republican state lawmaker in Missouri, believes media literacy is a new survival skill for children growing up in a world saturated with media. Murphy has been championing media literacy requirements for the past five years and emphasizes that it is not about indoctrination but about teaching students how to process information critically.
Media literacy is a multidisciplinary subject that can be integrated into various subjects, such as mathematics, science, and journalism. By expanding media literacy efforts across subject areas, educators aim to equip students with the skills needed to evaluate statistics, analyze research studies, and distinguish credible sources from disinformation.
Teachers like Michael A. Spikes from Northwestern University's journalism school and Anne-Michele Boyle from a Chicago public school have witnessed the positive impact of media literacy education firsthand. They have experienced a surge in available resources and have developed comprehensive units to teach students about bias, credibility assessment, and disinformation detection. Boyle hopes to establish an extracurricular club to sustain media literacy advocacy among students throughout the year.
By prioritizing media literacy education, U.S. schools are taking a proactive step towards building a sustainable global society. Teaching students to become critical consumers and creators of media content not only combats online disinformation but also fosters responsible digital citizenship aligned with the SDGs. These efforts empower future generations to navigate the digital landscape ethically, contribute to civil society, and uphold the values of truth, inclusivity, and sustainability.