Once upon a time, Chicken Little’s infamous phrase, “The sky is falling!” was the battle cry of alarm. Today, this classic signal of hysteria is in the process of being kicked to the curb, replaced by the new cry of “Fake news!”
So prevalent is the fear of fake news that some states are seeking to mandate media literacy instruction in the classroom. New Jersey is one of those states, The Hechinger Report explains, noting that media literacy instruction would extend to students in grades as young as kindergarten, because, “Experts say that many Americans, both young and old, lack the skills required to critically analyze information in a digital world.”
On its surface, such instruction seems like a worthy and needed venture. Why not catch students young and teach them to correctly “access, analyze, evaluate, create, and communicate information”? But a look past the surface shows that we should exercise caution when the idea of teaching media literacy arises, for such instruction may only serve to further stifle a child’s ability to discern fact from fiction.
The fact that schools want to teach media literacy to students in their early school years should be our first clue that such instruction isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Giving students a head start in everything from sports to algebra is par for the course these days. But unfortunately, head start tactics like these create a response that’s exactly opposite to the knowledge and discernment schools are supposedly aiming for.
This issue is raised by author Carl Honoré in a book titled “In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.” Honoré cites the work of Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of child psychology at Philadelphia’s Temple University who studied two sets of preschoolers: one in a relaxed, play-based nursery school, the other in an academic one. Her findings showed “that children from the more relaxed, slower environment turned out less anxious, more eager to learn, and better able to think independently.”
Given this observation, it’s natural to wonder whether the education that pushes children early on—such as media literacy courses in kindergarten—is likely to turn them into unthinking yes-men rather than people who carefully weigh a situation and then make up their own minds based on the evidence. If so, it isn’t a surprise that the media literacy push is happening at such a young age, for the education system has repeatedly demonstrated that it has no room for students who think independently. The goal of schooling is to teach conformity rather than independent thought, former New York teacher of the year John Taylor Gatto once noted, enabling those in positions of authority to “harness and manipulate a large labor force.”
Schools try to tell us otherwise, of course, touting the need for “critical thinking” and extolling their commitment to teaching this subject in the classroom. The reality is that schools never do much about critical thinking, author Neil Postman tells us in his book Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future, citing several reasons:
“The first is that it is dangerous. Were we to allow, indeed, encourage, our children to think critically, their questioning of constituted authority would almost certainly be one result. We might even say that “critical thinking” works to undermine the idea of education as a national resource, since a free-thinking populace might reject the goals of its nation-state and disturb the smooth functioning of its institutions.”
It’s definitely true that our children need to know how to process the massive amounts of information society subjects us to. But rather than push media literacy courses down their throats, which only gives lip service to critical thinking, why not teach them to be independent thinkers whose main goal is to pursue truth?
Tools to Pursue Truth
Teaching a child to pursue truth sounds almost impossible, especially since everyone seems to have their own truth these days, but there are a few simple steps we can follow in order to wade through life with discernment. Author Hannah Anderson explains these in her book All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment.
The first is to teach children that “truth must be rooted in factual reality.” Others will scrutinize our opinions, Anderson writes, and we must make sure they’re based upon facts that are accessible to others so that they themselves can weigh the evidence and understand how we came to our conclusions.
The second is that we must train our children to weigh the many arguments swirling around us. Just because an alleged truth came from a person we trust doesn’t mean that it’s true. Each argument must be tested on its own merits.
Finally, we must train children to evaluate the role their emotions play in their pursuit of truth. Failing to recognize emotions and keep them in check will lead us all astray, particularly when selecting our leaders, Anderson writes:
“If we don’t allow truth to pierce our internal process, we run the risk of letting our feelings about another person trump the reality about their actions. We will either demonize them or be duped by them. Our aversion can keep us from embracing and enjoying the good things that they have to offer while unquestioning loyalty can blind us to falsehood and leave us open to manipulation.”
Yes, our children are—and will continue to be—bombarded with all types of information and ideas. The answer isn’t to stifle their discernment sensors, as media literacy classes seem likely to do, but to teach them to be independent thinkers and seekers of the truth.
This article is republished with permission from The Epoch Times.
Image Credit: Pxhere