How to get smart: News literacy programs train readers to look beyond infotainment
By Kathleen Parker, Published: July 17
“One such delectable nugget tumbled recently from the lips of retiring Democratic Rep. Gary L. Ackerman of New York. Reflecting on his 30 years in Washington, Ackerman was asked to comment on the relative lack of comity on Capitol Hill. Did it ever exist?
Not really, he said, but at least Democrats and Republicans used to be friends. Today, crossing the aisle is tantamount to treason. The problem isn’t only Washington but society as a whole.
“I think the people have gotten dumber.”
“Extrapolating, might we conclude that extreme partisanship is a function of . . .dumbness? If so, then whose fault is that? Education’s? Surely, at least in part. But the problem is broader than a single institution. Dumbness permeates every aspect of our lives, including, dangerously, our media.
Ackerman put it well: “We now give broadcast licenses to philosophies instead of people. People get confused and think there is no difference between news and entertainment. People who project themselves as journalists on television don’t know the first thing about journalism. They are just there stirring up a hockey game…”
“The NLP (whose board I recently joined) focuses on school programs for middle and high school students. The group’s staff includes 22 news organizations and 200 journalists who donate their time and talents to work with students. Both groups try to answer the question: How do you find the truth?, and the CNL identifies news as “the oxygen of democracy.” Indeed, without a well-informed public, you get . . . what we have: a culture that rewards ignorance and treats discourse as a blood sport.
All freedoms depend first on freedom of speech, but not all speech is equivalent, no matter how many hits a Web site boasts or how many viewers ages 25-54 tune in to a given TV show. By such measures, the sensational will always trump substance. Unfortunately, the so-called “mainstream media” — that is, old media — have suffered a crisis of confidence, deservedly in some cases. But in most real journalism institutions resides a dedication to providing reliable information according to universally accepted standards and practices. Without them, our news would be limited to stories about sex, lies and the madam next door.
Cassi Creek: Parker is one of the opinion writers who have yet to become so polarized that they are no longer journalists. Recall that she warned her political party about the unsuitability of Sarah Palin. Parker has now joined the News Literacy Project, hoping to help correct the inability of our students to separate news from entertainment.
The current junior high and high school students lack the ability, and perhaps the capacity, to engage in critical thinking. They lacked this skill before starting school and they have not been taught the necessity for the skill or the skill itself. This renders them largely incapable of winnowing out the chaff that they download in their daily encounter with education and with life external to schools.
There is a tremendous need to teach our students how to determine what is true, facts that can be relied upon when making critical decisions; and what is entertainment and other dross, base in content and unreliable for any purpose. We have much of the GOP/teavangelist base incapable and unconcerned that they lack the ability to discern fiction from fact in their daily near miss with news. These are the people who vote against tax increases to fund scholastic needs, and who will vote to raise taxes to support a new football stadium. These are the people who will protest any classes explaining evolution unless it is offset by the required presentation of Christian mythology as if it were real.
Compounding this glaring lack of contact with reality is a change in the assimilation of news/propaganda among our senior citizens. The men and women who gave birth to boomers were fortunate to have been news consumers when Murrow, Cronkite, Brinkley, and the rest who viewed reporting news as a sacred trust to deliver the truth as a public service were programming news for a once-a-day schedule. Facts were checked, opinions were checked at the studio door. The news was as reliable as it could be.
When news became an around the clock drive for ratings, when physiognomy eclipsed formal journalism education, when opinion became a marketable product – propaganda disguised as news and marketed as entertainment, many of our seniors missed the notice. They were used to believable, reliable news. Fox News slipped the change into the daily routine of many people who were not equipped to question “news”
We need to teach our students how to search for the truth in news. They need to learn how to read books for information. Tweets and other broadcasts designed to fit another attention hole in a 20 something misdiagnosed with ADD instead of an actual chronic sugar/caffeine overload, are not sufficient information to claim that one is well educated. Witness if you will, Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin, ranting against the process of education and the educated as elitists rather than simply admitting that they missed the boat and the book.
I’m going to look into the News Literacy Project. Perhaps it is another tool that can be used in the hope of preventing the former middle class from voting against its own self-interest. Literacy is often feared by plutocrats, oligarchs, and other repressive political parties. Is it any wonder that the teavanagelists are intent upon defining educated Americans as an “elitist enemy?”