I.               Knowledge

II.              Action

       III.            Citizenship Friday

I. Knowledge

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
— George Santayana

And what of those who don't know their present?

The internet revolution has put the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, and we should be the most knowledgeable and civically literate generation in American history. After all, a week of the New York Times contains more information than the average 18th century American encountered in their entire lifetime, and today human knowledge doubles every 13 months. Yet despite our unprecedented access to this great flow of information, Americans’ overall political knowledge and civic literacy is startlingly low. More people can name the Three Stooges than the three branches of government (36%). Most Americans can neither identify their U.S. House representative nor place Afghanistan (only 17%) on a world map. Only 20% of Americans know how many senators there are, 77% of Americans between 18 and 34 could not even name one senator in their home state, and more than half of Americans don’t know that the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. Yikes. According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, just 15% of Americans could correctly identify the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, while 27% knew Randy Jackson was a judge on American Idol. I could go on.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and a passionate believer in education as the cornerstone of democracy, once wrote, "If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Anyone unsure of America’s civic illiteracy before the 2016 election should harbor no illusions of what We The People have become. A steady diet of fake ads, outright lies, and hateful propaganda filled this year’s campaign, fuels our ignorance, and undermines our political system.  As James Madison, the "father" of the Constitution, wrote, "A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people." And we politics teachers must make it our task to instruct our student-citizens in the art of political efficacy.

Here’s the first step…

Journal Review

The world is endlessly fascinating and surprising, and I give students a weekly journal reviews to uncover the world’s wonder and then connect it to our civic curriculum.

Every week, my students practice the art of civic literacy with a critical reading of the news that teaches global engagement, media literacy, and the empowerment of awareness. Through our weekly journal reviews, students gain essential civic knowledge, turn abstract concepts into living breathing narratives, and hone the skill of analysis and evaluation, as they become awakened to the world beyond. As students develop a self-sustaining habit and joy of being informed, I am able to impart with them a lifetime skill and habit that undergirds our democratic system. One of the joys of teaching students to engage with the media is getting emails from former students, sharing articles from The Economist, The New Yorker, or the Wall Street Journal on topics like federalism, civil liberties, or the presidency that I “must share with the new students!” And for those concerned about test scores, I can assure you that the political knowledge and evaluative skills that students gain from a deep analysis of current articles will help students become both media literate and successful on the AP exam.



For our initial journal reviews I give students a list of suggested media sources for their articles.

The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
The Washington Post
The LA Times
The Christian Science Monitor
The Economist
The Guardian Unlimited
Foreign Policy

As I share these sources, I explain what makes some sources more reputable and trustworthy (Vox), and others neither verifiable nor reliable (The Onion). My list of sites is an anchor which students must eventually wean themselves from as they learn to filter out the real from the fake on their own. Students may be digital natives, but when they come to your class they are certainly not experts at evaluating media sources. In fact, a recent Stanford university study found some alarming news. Stanford researchers who evaluated students' ability to assess information sources, described the results of this new study  as "dismaying," "bleak" and "[a] threat to democracy."

Here’s the story from NPR

Students Have 'Dismaying' Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds

Here are some action steps that can guide students towards media literacy.

First, students must be taught to read like fact checkers. Alexios Mantzarlis, director of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, says fact checkers have a process for each claim they deal with. Here are a few best practices all people can use when reading articles online.

Read the News Like a Fact-Checker

1- Pay attention to the domain and URL

Established news organizations usually own their domains and they have a standard look that you are probably familiar with. Sites with such endings like .com.co should make you raise your eyebrows and tip you off that you need to dig around more to see if they can be trusted. This is true even when the site looks professional and has semi-recognizable logos. For example, abcnews.com is a legitimate news source, but abcnews.com.co is not, despite its similar appearance.

2- Read the "About Us" section

Most sites will have a lot of information about the news outlet, the company that runs it, members of leadership, and the mission and ethics statement behind an organization. The language used here is straightforward. If it's melodramatic and seems overblown, you should be skeptical. Also, you should be able to find out more information about the organization's leaders in places other than that site.

3- Look at the quotes in a story

Or rather, look at the lack of quotes. Most publications have multiple sources in each story who are professionals and have expertise in the fields they talk about. If it's a serious or controversial issue, there are more likely to be quotes — and lots of them. Look for professors or other academics who can speak to the research they've done. And if they are talking about research, look up those studies.

4- Look at who said them

Then, see who said the quotes, and what they said. Are they a reputable source with a title that you can verify through a quick Google search? Say you're looking at a story and it says President Obama said he wanted to take everyone's guns away. And then there's a quote. Obama is an official who has almost everything he says recorded and archived. There are transcripts for pretty much any address or speech he has given. Google those quotes. See what the speech was about, who he was addressing and when it happened. Even if he did an exclusive interview with a publication, that same quote will be referenced in other stories, saying he said it while talking to the original publication.

5- Check the comments

A lot of these fake and misleading stories are shared on social media platforms. Headlines are meant to get the reader's attention, but they're also supposed to accurately reflect what the story is about. Lately, that hasn't been the case. Headlines often will be written in exaggerated language with the intention of being misleading and then attached to stories that are about a completely different topic or just not true. These stories usually generate a lot of comments on Facebook or Twitter. If a lot of these comments call out the article for being fake or misleading, it probably is.

6- Reverse image search

A picture should be accurate in illustrating what the story is about. This often doesn't happen. If people who write these fake news stories don't even leave their homes or interview anyone for the stories, it's unlikely they take their own pictures. Do a little detective work and reverse search for the image on Google. You can do this by right-clicking on the image and choosing to search Google for it. If the image is appearing on a lot of stories about many different topics, there's a good chance it's not actually an image of what it says it was on the first story.

There are many other questions to be considered. Organizations such as the Center for Media Literacy, The News Literacy Project, and the National Association of Media Literacy Education can provide guidance and more recommendations. Another helpful resource is this Stanford study: Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning.

 You can listen to the story from NPR: Fake Or Real? How To Self-Check The News And Get The Facts

If you are more of a visual learner or just want to dive a little deeper, here’s a great TED ED talk about teaching media literacy

So to recap, a strong democracy rests on the back of informed citizens. One of a politics teachers’ most important tasks is training students to be media savvy and civically literate. Next, we’ll talk about turning that media knowledge into action and build political efficacy!

I.               Knowledge

II.              Action