Preparing students to be wise consumers of media as well as responsible producers in the global social-media culture we now inhabit is already on the radar of many private school educators. What was once considered college course material or an advanced high school elective course has become a necessary skill at every grade level.  Media Literacy provides opportunity to integrate all subject matter, increase student proficiency with dissecting as well as disseminating ideas around the globe, and empower students by transforming each teacher into the guide who supports their engagement with the world.  But most of all, it is a benefit to all of society for young people to gain methods of respectful discourse which yield a mutual understanding and sense of citizenship  – much needed contributions to the public debate.

Ron Reynolds of CAPSO (California Association of Private School Organizations) sheds light on his state’s legislative efforts to bring media literacy into the public education system below:

Beyond the Moment

In the days leading to the inauguration of Donald Trump, separate pieces of legislating promoting the teaching of media literacy and civic online reasoning were introduced in the California Legislature. Senate Bill 135, authored by Bill Dodd, a Democrat from Davis, would require media literacy instruction to be woven into the social sciences curriculum spanning grades 1-12, in the state’s public schools. Assembly Bill 155, authored by Los Angeles Democrat Jimmy Gomez, proposes the development and incorporation of civil online reasoning instruction in English language arts, mathematics, history-social science, and science.

It’s about time. Israel made media literacy a standard component of its national curriculum some 25 years ago. Most European nations have either adopted the teaching of media literacy as a stand-alone subject, or teach it across content areas. And the subject is certainly no stranger to private schools. I recall having organized seminars designed to introduce the concept of media literacy and help teachers teach it, circa 1990.

Whatever one’s political orientation, or one’s thoughts regarding the extent to which Russia may, or may not have attempted to manipulate American public opinion prior to the 2016 presidential election, one can readily agree that enabling students to be more conscious, discerning, and critical consumers of media – whether electronic, on paper, or in images – is not only a laudable goal, but an increasingly necessary requirement for a literate and informed citizenry.

The recent election raises other important questions that can, and should be considered in a nonpartisan manner: What does it mean that an individual who had never before sought public office at any level was able to prevail in the world’s most coveted and significant election? What are we to make of the fact that a freely available social media platform created less than 10 years ago proved to be candidate Donald Trump’s most effective form of communication with potential voters? What does it mean that most of us have become producers of political messages that can reach intertwined networks in a matter of seconds and, perhaps, millions of recipients within hours? Even more importantly, with attention now focused upon both the new text and context of political discourse, can we sort out the one-off aspects of the election from developments that may reflect a sea change in the American political culture?

We are hard pressed to keep pace with the changes we are creating. Living in the moment as we do, we are the change. The film maker Michael Moore was able to lick his finger, hold it up to the political wind and correctly predict the outcome of the presidential election. Nate Silver, armed with an array of sophisticated algorithms that had enabled him to call all 50 states correctly in the 2012 presidential election, got it wrong. On election night, with one eye on the tube and the other on Mr. Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website, the refrain of Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” kept finding its way into my head: you know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?

No matter our personal political views, we’re all in this together. Just as protons, electrons and neutrons exist in relation to form matter, so, too, does our relatedness shape our politics. We were all involved in producing the outcome of the election. In an age of near-instant everything, 241 years may seem an eternity. Yet, we’d be well advised to remember that our democratic republic remains a dynamic experiment in self-government.

Private school educators possess both the liberty and responsibility to enable our young people not only to make meaning out of a rapidly changing culture, but to make a culture that is meaningful. The answers to the questions beginning with “What does it mean…?” ultimately lie in the hands of teachers. Are we up to the task?

Ron Reynolds, Executive Director of CAPSO