I begin my weekly sixth-grade journalism class with the same question: What’s going on in the news?
On Nov. 5, my students were practically falling out of their chairs. The election was behind us, but the votes were still being counted. Like most adults, these kids were confused, excited and just trying to understand what was happening.
One boy opened his laptop and read a news headline. “Where is that from?” I asked. “Google,” he replied. “But what news source is it from,” I pushed back. “It just says Google,” he said.
Another student blurted out, “If Biden wins, he’s going to lock us all up!”
Then another student politely raised a hand and articulated that Democrats are cheating and trying to steal the election.
“Great segue!” I chirped. We had work to do.
Maybe the newspaper lands on your doorstep with a comforting thump each morning. You value traditional journalism and worry about its future. I believe it’s not enough to implore readers to save the free press or to appeal to Americans’ obligation to democracy. We need to teach journalism — or media literacy more broadly — and teach it early.
Journalism education can help the next generation identify reliable sources, facts, opinion and bias. It can be an antidote to pervasive misinformation, distrust and confusion. It’s an interdisciplinary subject that crosses language arts and social studies. It encourages healthy debate, and it teaches the dying art of critical thinking.
While I originally set out to teach my students how to write a basic news story, I found that we had to go back and study what news is. Kids are engaged with the news. But with the amount of media thrown at them, we can’t assume they know how to interpret it.
Over the semester, I saw awareness grow. On Jan. 14, I asked my usual question: What’s going on in the news? Responses ping-ponged around the room: the COVID-19 vaccine, local coyote sightings, climate change, Trump’s social media de-platforming, the riots at the Capitol. Finally, I held up The Seattle Times front page announcing Trump’s impeachment. We discussed the meaning of incitement, the First Amendment and what might happen next. The students were calm, inquisitive and respectful of each other’s opinions.
As opposed to introducing journalism as a high school club or career track, we should teach it to younger students as a life skill. Then maybe the next generation will value it.