Students are reading less and less from traditional news sources and getting more and more information from social-media outlets, many of which circulate misleading news content that significantly affects public opinion. In a world where people are beginning to value quick information over the correct, detailed, and complex stories that current events often are, a greater amount of the public is making uninformed choices and statements in their civic engagement. Not only does the spread of news through blogs and people with no journalistic standards pose a problem, but labeling news sources as “mainstream” and “fake news” is leading to problematic assumptions that threaten our democracy. Our country’s course is decided by the culmination of individual choices, and if the individual citizen is unable to wade through the inevitable biases of different media sources and make educated decisions, our country’s future will be jeopardized.
The fault lies in our education system. Students must be engaged, informed, and equipped to properly make sense of the media that they are exposed to, especially with the sheer quantity of stories they read on social media. However, most school curriculums do not focus adequately enough on current events and the surrounding world. Though students are required to periodically report on current events, this sort of engagement and research is not nearly frequent enough for students to gain a proper understanding of the world around them: being engaged with the news must become a habit. Reading, watching, or listening to the news and comprehending the stories for their information, biases, and points of view must become a skill that each and every student must be comfortable with.
Schools and parents alike can take several steps to rectify the problem. The first is developing a regular readership of newspapers, both local and national. Too few students have the patience to read and understand the nuances behind a news story, simply glancing at headlines on Snapchat feeds. By placing an emphasis on reading, students would be able to develop the necessary analytical skills to succeed in other areas of study, yet they are also afforded the opportunity to dissect the different opinions presented. Furthermore, reading from a newspaper exposes students to areas of information that they would otherwise be unaware of, such as Nobel Prize-winning research into circadian rhythms, developments in the corporate world, or the Rohingya refugee crisis. Broadening the scope of information consumption gives students the opportunity to make connections among fields of study to see the “big picture.” This exposure does not have to be intensive to be effective. A kid should not be required to read the entire newspaper or listen to an entire radio broadcast, but instead should be encouraged to read an article a day or listen to the news for 15 minutes to keep ignorance away.
These solutions can be implemented by providing students with newspaper subscriptions within school. High school students sometimes are eligible for discounts on subscriptions to these news sources, and they are generally affordable (especially on electronic devices), with subscriptions under $5 per week. There are also programs, such as New York Times in School, that provide subscriptions to school districts at special rates, providing students with a valuable resource during the school year. In fact, in addition to digital subscriptions, the New York Times has launched a Learning Network, which features for schools such as short essay prompts, lesson plans for all areas including the Common Core, quizzes, and competitions, complementing and blending with the curriculum in a way that enhances the learning experience.
Even more important than understanding what the news may be saying is understanding the motives behind the presentation of each story. In the polarized political climate, there is too much finger pointing into inaccurate or incomplete news coverage of stories from the different sides of the political spectrum to keep track of. In all this commotion, the entire truth is lost when media consumers simply take their “trusted source of information” to be true. Students must be taught and understand the different political biases and opinions exhibited on different news platforms. With a dissemination of personal political opinions in the news, it is essential that opinion is separated from the facts when looking at a story objectively, and when looking at an event analytically, students must have the skills to identify all different opinions and formulate their own judgements based on the information and their values.
Improving the quality of our media consumption must become a priority. This must entail exposure to media outlets with a variety of biases; reading from multiple accredited newspapers, journals, and magazines; and listening to and researching policies and world events from different political and social viewpoints. Without a wholesome awareness of the world, we will be unable to think critically to make decisions that will govern our future.