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Illinois now requires media literacy instruction in its high school curriculum


An Illinois law went into effect with the start of the school year requiring lessons in media literacy for all high school students. The law is written to allow media literacy to be taught in any subject, from civics to art to PE. Rachel spoke with Yonty Friesem, an associate professor of civic media at Columbia College Chicago, who helped write the bill.

YONTY FRIESEM: The idea is to teach about asking questions of how is it constructed, this message? Who is behind it? What's going on here? And how does it affect me and society? And what's my role in how I'm using media? So it can be in a science experiment, but it can be also in art. It can be talking about civics in social science class.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: What are the tenets of teaching media literacy?

FRIESEM: So the five are accessing information, how you evaluate different media platforms to better understand the general landscape, the economics and issues regarding trustworthiness and source of information. That's one. The second one is analyzing and evaluating media messages, how you deconstruct media representation and distinguish facts from opinion. The third one is creating media, how you convey a coherent message. The fourth one is reflecting on media consumption. How do you assess, like, the media effects on yourself but others to trigger emotions and behavior? And the last one, for me, a very important one, as, you know, civic media professor, is the social responsibility in civics.

MARTIN: So it seems obvious to me how important it would be to teach media literacy in the context of a political science course or a civics course. Explain how it works if you are a PE teacher or a science teacher.

FRIESEM: If you want to teach an experiment or you show a chart of an infographic about physical education, it would be important, in addition to teaching the actual subject and what is there, to ask, who created this chart; who created this video; why did they create this video as part of the practice that you do on a daily basis to teach the thing, but also to implement the media literacy so students are used already to question, like, what's happening here? Like, there was a reason why they created that way and what they omitted. Like, what is missing here? And let's go and do - search about it. So it doesn't jeopardize the topic. It actually enhance it and make the students more in the center of the inquiry and learning more about it.

MARTIN: Are high school students responsive to this? I mean, do they get it, or is it tougher for them because they are a generation, different from you or me, who just were born in this context, just constant information coming at them? It's just the air that they breathe.

FRIESEM: I mean, there is some generation gap because of that, but there is also some notion that students are, like, getting into fake news. But we're all. It's not just students. It's not just the youngest. Actually, there's several research that show that it's olders on Facebook, and young people don't use Facebook. So what happens really is that students are aware of privacy issues. They know very well how to create accounts so that their parents won't follow them. Not always they understand the industry, like, economical way that it works and how more engagement is more revenue. And giving your data - they understand part of it. So that's where the educator is coming to really reveal that in a way and to help the students make their own decision.

MARTIN: Have you gotten pushback to any of this?

FRIESEM: Not much. There was here and there. I mean, the fact that it's a mandate top down is always something that would trigger kind of objection, which - I totally get it. But that was another thing that was saying you're indoctrinating in a certain way of thinking. But that's not being media literate, right? If I tell the students, you need to think that way, that's not being media literate because I don't let them ask questions. So there was some pushback. But I think, in general, people understand that everybody needs to have proficiency in navigating this media-saturated environment that we live in. And it doesn't matter if you're high school, elementary school, senior citizen, adult. Like...

MARTIN: Right.

FRIESEM: ...Everybody needs it. But at this point, it's a starting point and very innovative in the country and, in some cases, also in the world, to have this kind of legislation in place.

MARTIN: Yonty Friesem is an associate professor of civic media at Columbia College Chicago.

Thank you so much for talking with us.

FRIESEM: My pleasure. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOMI AND JD BECK'S "SMILE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.