Our digital students deserve media literacy

February 20, 2019

Laura listened attentively as I explained a year ago that middle-schoolers typically spend nine hours online each day, according to data collected by Common Sense Media in 2015. It seemed a ton of time to the seventh-grader, who had just enrolled in my media literacy elective class.

But soon after, she got a smartphone and realized how time flew as her Snapchat social media account devoured her free hours. Posting silly memes, scrolling through news items friends had shared. She was a citizen in a brave new world.

Yet, early in the semester, she did not truly know what it meant to be a digital citizen. How much information should she reveal about herself online? Should she post photographs without checking to see if they were copyrighted? What are ways for her to distinguish between genuine and false news?

In a world dizzy with technology, our students — more than 80 percent of them have access to cellphones — need tools to navigate media and become wise cyberspace citizens. Media literacy should be injected into all of our New Mexico schools so our children can be the savvy digital leaders of tomorrow.

If not, recent schemes that are consuming school and police officials’ time will only get worse. In Maryland a year ago, for example, middle school students were encouraged via Snapchat to send nude selfies to an anonymous user who, in turn, posted them to a website viewable by the students.

Spurred on by news accounts and statistics like these, a growing list of states is offering up digital citizenship instruction across elementary and secondary grade levels.

Take California, which passed into law last fall a measure that requires the state Department of Education to publish media literacy resources online and provide teacher professional development opportunities. In Washington, a new law requires the state superintendent to create a website that details successful media literacy practices.

We owe it to our students to help them tell the difference between news and advertisements. We owe it to our students to ensure their future digital tattoo is one in which they are proud. We owe it to our students to remind them again and again not to divulge personal information of any kind online. It may be a matter of life or death.

New Mexico needs to take a strong stance like its neighbors to the west. While there have been a few ceremonial-like legislative efforts over the years, nothing of any substance has resulted. There is not enough being done to shine the spotlight on media literacy.

Now is the time to:

u Require that elementary and secondary schools offer stand-alone media literacy courses or embed curriculum into content areas. Like never before, students across the state are sitting behind devices at their desks. It is the perfect stage upon which to sprinkle media literacy lessons into our classroom routines.

u Support Senate Bill 194 that calls for $400,000 for media literacy teacher education. New technology abounds. Adults, too, need to understand the ins and outs of the latest digital platforms and resources so they can empower their students to do the same. In addition, it is vital to advocate for House Bill 400, which would fund a statewide survey to find out whether media literacy is being taught, as well as establish an advisory committee of educators to help inject media literacy across multiple content areas.

u Provide educational opportunities to help parents guide their children along the ever-changing landscape of social media.

These days, Laura is armed with digital information. In fact, she has embraced media literacy and takes to the internet each time she is leery of a social media post to check its legitimacy. The eighth-grader is back in my class again this semester, because she knows she has more to learn.

It’s our responsibility to ensure all New Mexico’s youth are digital detectives, just like Laura.

Kelly Pearce is a Lincoln Middle School teacher in Rio Rancho.