A news columnist for Yahoo is calling for government intervention to teach public school children how to differentiate fake news from reliable sources.
According to Yahoo’s Matt Bai, it’s time for the nation’s schools to get in the business of teaching children how and where to read the news. Donald Trump’s election, he contends, represents the a new era of “truth-free media to go with our new, truth-free politics.”
To believe this, of course, one is forced to accept that both media and politics were relatively honest prior to Trump’s election.
But what Bai and other mainstream journalists are rallying against isn’t dishonesty— it’s an increasingly varied media landscape that requires extra care to understand.
Think about it this way: 30 years ago, watching the news was like driving a car. Children weren’t born knowing how to do it, exactly, but it was intuitive enough that really any idiot could figure it out.
You had three networks, all of which aired the day’s news at roughly the same time and in the same studiously detached way. You had a major metro paper and a handful of national papers, which reported versions of the same stories, chosen by editors with the same basic objectives.
Today, he laments, there are far more options; and most of them are riddled with confirmation bias.
He isn’t wrong— but his prescribed fix is.
Bai wants government schools to create standardized ways to teach children how to pick news sources:
My kids will spend months of their young lives studying the Revolution and the Civil War and the advent of mass production, which is fine. In grade school, they spend some part of every year revisiting the social movements of the ’60s, which is noble and important.
But what’s called “media literacy” in the education world — the ability to consume torrents of information with some level of competence and sophistication — is still an outlier in social studies curricula, despite having been discussed now for decades. Even when it’s taught, it’s crammed into a high school unit, by which time today’s grade-schoolers will have been surfing YouTube for half their lives.
According to data compiled by the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts (where I happen to serve on the board of advisers), most high school civics teachers try to cover modern media in some way, but as of 2012, only a third of them said they were “very confident” they could do it successfully.
Given all that’s happened in politics and media since, you’d have to think the job hasn’t gotten easier. But training is scarce, and efforts to standardize the curricula are sporadic.
Here’s a radical thought: If President Trump is looking for a bold and useful education initiative that might serve the incidental purpose of redeeming what’s left of his soul, media literacy would be a pretty good place to start. Getting behind a nationwide push in K-through-12 classrooms could be an important and unifying priority for the incoming education secretary, Betsy DeVos.
Of course, you can probably guess which sources would be deemed acceptable under a plan like this.
Here’s a better idea. Eliminate the political correctness insanity that has taken over American education and begin again teaching children how to critically reason and debate even the most uncomfortable subjects. And forget media literacy… at least until schools throughout the country can handle teaching basic literacy and critical thinking skills.