In the April 9, 2017 edition of the Washington Post Magazine, Kitson Jazynka reports on how colleges are using “fake news” as a teachable moment. In short, colleges are teaching media literacy as a means of teaching students how to triangulate, or confirm information from multiple sources, as well as look for “bias, missing points of view, misleading slants and economic influences.” See the article for more information.
In the literacy world, this is often referred to as “critical reading” and it is what many reading teachers and literacy professors have been arguing for for decades. That is, students should be taught how to read critically within and across the curriculum starting as early as 4th grade. Yes, students should be “news literate” but this starts with being able to read critically in each subject area, and with students’ ability to adapt their thinking in order to make sense of different types of texts and information, including an author’s purpose, missing points of view, and misleading slants when applicable.
While it sounds simplistic, students who have figured out the structure and study of each discipline, and how to read critically in those disciplines, fare the best. For instance, I watched as a student participant in my dissertation study visited several Internet sites, rather than refer to his textbook, for the answers to his social studies worksheet. He explained that if each website had the same information, he assumed it was correct. And, the student’s teacher believed this particular skill of vetting information to be more important than obtaining and memorizing “facts” from the history textbook. In this way, triangulation from multiple sources trumps singular fact, and, thus, provides the foundation for students to synthesize and evaluate more complex knowledge. This is the basis of literacy, or the ability to know how to make meaning, within and across contexts. And, this is why discipline-specific strategies and critical reading should be taught explicitly throughout high school and college, in every subject. If this were the case, we would not need to worry about our students being subject to “fake news.”