In March, the Los Angeles Unified School District school board unanimously passed a resolution to require critical media literacy learning from elementary level through high school levels. The decision, led by LAUSD board member Jackie Goldberg and supported by UCLA Teacher Education Program lecturer Jeff Share, signals the recognition in the educational arena of the need to teach students from a young age the basics of critical thinking to navigate the vortex of media, fake news and disinformation.
Goldberg and Share had a recent conversation with Ampersand on the goals of LAUSD to enfold critical media literacy into Common Core learning, their own experiences with the media and how critical thinking skills around media will prepare generations to come as informed participants in democracy.
How are young people today able to analyze news and media when they are bombarded 24/7 with information? Do you think families have the ability today to discuss these with their kids?
Goldberg: I think that some kids, as they figured out critical thinking in their English class or history class, are probably doing alright. But there are a whole lot of kids who, in my opinion, have no idea as to who might benefit from [online information], what the motivation might be for having it written, how [they] could check the facts. An awful lot of … students, starting as early as elementary school, see things on YouTube, believe things on TikTok are true — they just believe it’s true because it’s there.
There are all kinds of questions that I’d like to see young people [address] with media that I don’t think most of them are doing. And I’m sure their parents aren’t either, because they didn’t have any more critical media instruction than I did, and I had none, except those things which taught me to think critically, not with media, but in general.
Parents, even if they were watching the media with their kids — which most of them don’t have time to do — wouldn’t do much better than their kids, except … that parents are pretty clear about people trying to sell something.
I think they’re going to need a lot of help in understanding that people put things [online] to sell stuff, to make money, to convince you that up is down and in is out … [messages] that are racist, that are homophobic. I’m not saying it’s all evil. But a lot of it is motivated by more than “I just wanted to share some factual information that I’ve discovered.”
Share: It’s so hard to know what to believe these days because there are so many people creating information, putting it out there, and it takes work to be able to sort through the weeds and figure out what’s coming from a credible source, what are the biases and what’s based on scientific data or facts. … It’s not an easy process. It was never easy, but today, with so much technology and information constantly coming at us, it definitely takes a lot more work.
Goldberg: We have at our board meetings now, under public comment, people who are telling us that vaccinations are dangerous, don’t wear masks, they hold the virus to your face and make sure that you get sick. And they’re calling up and they’re saying this to the world that is watching us on [livestream]. It’s dreadful.
Share: You have other people supporting this. You have right-wing think tanks, like the Heartland Institute, that are promoting quasi-science to disseminate information that is blatantly false or subtly misleading. It confuses people. And when people are misled to doubt the evidence, facts and science, they don’t know what to believe and then they figure, “If I don’t know for sure, I’m not going to do anything.” Unfortunately, some people think, “We shouldn’t do anything for climate change because we don’t know for sure,” while in reality, we have known for many years that human-caused CO2 emissions are heating the atmosphere and creating a climate crisis. The ability of a few people and organizations to spread disinformation that confuses the public, just for their own economic self-interest, is extremely dangerous.
Are you going to be involved in developing the curriculum for this?
Goldberg: I hope Jeff will be. I linked him up with the [LAUSD] director of instruction [Alison Yoshimoto-Towery]. We’re going to start off very slowly because, first of all, everybody is “all hands on deck” getting the schools reopened. I told her when I passed [the resolution] that I was not really expecting much right now. What I had hoped would happen, and she has agreed to do this, is that we get some student feedback from some of our seniors, before they leave us, about what they think they got and needed and should have gotten.