A prerequisite for media literacy that begins in kindergarten? New Jersey can start the trend

New Jersey students could soon learn how to spot misinformation.

The New Jersey legislature passed bipartisan legislation on November 21 that would require public schools to teach media literacy.

Media literacy, sometimes referred to as information literacy, is according to the National Association for Media Literacy Education, a professional association for educators, academics, activists, and students.

It’s about “understanding the influence of the media on our lives and the need to apply critical thinking to how we engage with the media and understand how to communicate with it,” said Sherri Hope Culver, a Temple University professor and director of the Center for the University Media and Information Literacy.

The New Jersey law comes as students spend more time online and the media landscape becomes more complex. Every day people are inundated with so much information, which may or may not be believable, and experts say it’s important for children to learn to think critically about all of this information.

“Here we are today, where the real threats to our democracy are related to misinformation and disinformation,” said Olga Polites, director of the New Jersey chapter of nonprofit advocacy group Media Literacy Now.

“If we can ensure our K-12 students learn the critical thinking skills needed to identify credible sources of information, ask questions, and create their own information, we would truly help them become more.” civicly responsible citizens,” Polites said.

While teaching media literacy in K-12 schools isn’t new, New Jersey would be the first to mandate that school districts teach media literacy to students at all grade levels from kindergarten through 12th grade if Gov. Phil Murphy signs the bill. Polites said it was “very likely” that Murphy would sign the law because it was passed unanimously and supported by the New Jersey School Boards Association, the New Jersey Association of School Librarians and the New Jersey Education Association.

In Illinois, school districts are required to provide media literacy classes for all high school students. Other states require state education boards or departments of education to develop standards for media literacy but do not require schools to teach those skills, Media Literacy Now said.

New Jersey law directs the state commissioner of education to develop curriculum guidelines on media literacy; Develop in-service media literacy training programs for school administrators, certified school library media specialists and the teachers who will deliver the classes; and to develop a rating system to measure the effectiveness of district instructional programs.

The bill would also require the state’s traditional teacher preparation programs, as well as alternative teacher preparation programs, to include media literacy programs.

“To have [media literacy] incorporated into the legislation allows teachers to recognize the importance of this skill in a more official capacity and devote the time needed to help students with this skill,” Culver said.

K-12 educators have many subjects to teach. Even when they know that media literacy is important, they are more likely to spend time researching the topics on which students are tested and teachers are assessed, she added.

For educators elsewhere who may want to incorporate media literacy into their curriculum, Culver and Polites have these tips:

  • Media competence does not have to be an independent lesson. It can be integrated into any course as teachers use media in all their classes.
  • Assemble an advisory group of educators who are already incorporating media literacy into their lesson plans who can guide other educators and ensure their needs are front and center.
  • Turn to media literacy experts for advice.
  • Find out free resources from other states, school districts, or outside organizations like the Illinois Civics HubStanford History Education GroupNational Association for Media Literacy Educationmedia literacy nowMessage Literacy ProjectCommon sense educationand UNESCO.