The citizen’s guide to the future. When kids understand how content is made, they begin to understand how it can be manipulated. Deep within a technologies of training of children of younger school age library in Maryland, pinned to the wall of a room called the Innovation Lab, is a photograph that will cause you to look twice.
It shows an adorable little boy in flip-flops, a blue T-shirt, and red shorts, nestled up against a muscular, slithering snake at least 10 times his size. The little boy, grinning, is patting the snake on the head. The boy in the image created the photograph last year after bounding into the library with his younger sister and mother to gather images for an elementary school project. When the photo was printed, he danced around the Innovation Lab with excitement. But, importantly, he knew it wasn’t. As we hit the anniversary of the jaw-dropping election of Donald Trump, the words fake news are flying around with more crackle than ever.
Get Future Tense in your inbox. A recent piece in the Columbia Journalism Review, for example, explains that as of fall 2017 at least a dozen universities around the country have started offering classes that teach critical thinking in media consumption, including a University of Washington course titled Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data. These reports might leave you with the impression that media literacy is a skill best saved for students in their teens and young adulthood. But the story of the little boy’s snake photo hints at what these approaches might be missing. What about media literacy education for the elementary-age set?
But they can expose children to new ways of thinking—an exposure that will be a precursor to the lifelong skills that the next generation will need to better understand how media is made and manipulated. Not to mention how it can be employed to deceive or evoke particular emotions. What do you think will happen next? For example, that little boy in the Abingdon Library’s Innovation Lab now has an understanding of how someone could fabricate an image. He knows how a green screen works.
He has, with the guidance of a librarian, gone through the steps of selecting compelling images and considering how they might play in different forms. Mary Hastler, chief executive for the Harford County Public Library system. Those skills, Hastler said, include techniques like how to hold a book or how to read from left to right—both foundational for becoming literate. Faith Rogow, an early childhood consultant who specializes in media literacy, has been making this point for years. A founder of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, Rogow has watched children gain new skills of media understanding when they have opportunities to create media instead of just consuming it. She also focuses on teaching the critical-thinking skills that underpin media literacy and explores age-appropriate ways to develop those skills in young children.
This can mean simply doing read alouds with storybooks that include a few next-step questions. Parents and educators are starting to build these media literacy skills without even quite realizing it. Liberty Elementary School in Baltimore, kids were already getting lessons in how media is made. Teachers can even use old-fashioned print books, no digital technology required, to trigger dialogue with little kids about many of the decisions that go into telling a story. With such examples popping up in libraries, schools, and bookstores around the country, it feels not only possible but also imperative to start media literacy training at much younger ages. But these early media moments provide a start. According to Bartkowski, the joy and confidence that she’s seen from the students who have used these digital tools is a sign that the Innovation Lab is already making an impression.
She beams when she reflects on what a difference it made for that little boy using the green screen. This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, New America, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. You depend on Slate for sharp, distinctive coverage of the latest developments in politics and culture. Now we need to ask for your support. Our work is more urgent than ever and is reaching more readers—but online advertising revenues don’t fully cover our costs, and we don’t have print subscribers to help keep us afloat. If you think Slate’s work matters, become a Slate Plus member.
You’ll get exclusive members-only content and a suite of great benefits—and you’ll help secure Slate’s future. Lisa Guernsey is deputy director of education policy and director of the Learning Technologies Project at New America. Her latest book, with co-author Michael H. Levine, is Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in a World of Screens. This was New Labour’s first education White Paper. Appendix: Achievement in our schools The text presented here was created from a photocopy of the printed version.
The photographs in the original have been omitted. Excellence in Schools was prepared for the web by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 4 February 2013. Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland. Foreword by the Secretary of State This, the first White Paper of the new Government, is as much about equipping the people of this country for the challenge of the future as it is about the Government’s core commitment to equality of opportunity and high standards for all. 2 Policies will be designed to benefit the many, not just the few.