Why elections like this prove that info literacy matters

debate-watchingThis particular election has polarized the country perhaps more than normal.  It has also been somewhat fact free. (I am using statistics not my personal opinion in that regard.)

What message do we need to take out of this as educators and librarians?  And how can this speak to the importance of information literacy and the role librarians and teachers take in taking it seriously?

1.The polarization and way people are getting siloed online is why it is so extremely important that teachers work with students on using many diverse and quality sources(beyond Google). Some of the divide on the internet is because people of my generation and beyond don’t do that, and live in an online bubble. We have to teach our students to do better and build wise habits now.  Using valid and multiple sources and reading more deeply and widely is important.

2.  Teach students sources that analyze or verify information like Factcheck.org.  They know about sites like Snopes, but they may not know the political fact checking sites as well.  CSPAN has had excellent election materials available throughout the election.  Help your teachers find them too.

3. Print journalism has done a much better job than cable news of digging out stories, reporting complex issues in breaking news. We should support papers by subscribing to them–many papers, including small town ones, lost subscribers by endorsing a candidate. We need journalists.

4. The media is a rail of our democracy and is needed. Attacking the media doesn’t help grow our understanding of the whole realm of ideas available. If the media disagrees with your viewpoint, watch it anyway. It’s good to know what other people think. Teach your students about media coverage and look at how things are being covered. Help them analyze it not just consume it.  Shows like CNN’s Reliable Sources(while imperfect) are an example of how to analyze coverage, not just report the news. 

5.  Related point to that — many millenials and soon our own students will be consuming most of their information without cable tv–via sources like Hulu, Amazon Prime, podcasts, discussion boards, Snapchat, or Facebook.  Do we understand how those sources share information?   Will that cherry picking and creating their own media paths also silo them?  Or are they wiser consumers already?  We need to better understand their “native” information gathering methods.

6. Consumers and students should trust but verify.  As news comes in fast, we should remind them to make sure it is verified on multiple sources, including on election day.  This election seems especially fraught with concern about misinformation.  Maybe it won’t be, but it is an opportunity to help students learn to use multiple sources.  Again, this reminds us to help them to evaluate the media — and the value in both fast(Twitter, TV media) and slow (print journalism, blogs) coverage in their ability to analyze the news of the day.

7.  Students need to talk about elections.  They are passionate, many of them, and losing can be difficult.  Students also don’t necessarily know how to have civil discourse about political concerns.  This year, I ran a series of lunchtime post-debate discussions.  We talked about what civil discourse was, analyzed the debate structure, and talked about how to discuss the issues.  Students have asked for us to hold one on election day and on the day after, so we will.  

8.  Librarians should be sources of information about elections.  Public libraries take this approach, but school libraries should help their 18 year olds by posting sample ballots, having voter registration forms available if that is applicable in their state, and letting them know libraries are sources of information.

9. Education matters. We need to fund public education. Whether people are in rural settings or urban, they deserve a well funded education. It matters that citizens understand history, the law, rhetorical strategies, and media literacy.   A well educated electorate matters.

Bottom line–information literacy isn’t this hip phrase — it is a real need for our students who need to, and deserve to be, savvy consumers.   We need to not be intellectually laisse-faire with the “Google” assignments and really teach them how to dig, used advanced searching, check multiple sources and understand bias.  It may matter to the very existence of our democracy someday.

One thought on “Why elections like this prove that info literacy matters

  1. This is an important posting and should be widely shared. I’ll do my part to get this information out there!

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