Media Literacy Seen as Priority by Delaware Lawmakers
DOVER, Del. — As its session drew to a close in June, the Delaware State Senate passed a bill addressing what a majority of its members agreed was a pressing need to teach media literacy in schools throughout the state.
The legislation, which previously passed in the state House, now awaits Gov. John Carney’s signature.
The support for the new legislation stemmed from concerns held by members that in an increasingly digital world, children are not being properly prepared when it comes to media literacy.
“The societal implications of technological developments are pervasive, and the reach and influence of digital media platforms continue to expand. Media literacy skills are necessary for citizens to safely, responsibly, and critically consume and use social media and other forms of media,” the bill reads.
“This act requires the Department of Education to develop and maintain evidence-based media literacy standards for use by school districts and charter schools serving students in grades kindergarten through 12. The standards and materials must be age-appropriate and must address appropriate, responsible, and healthy online behavior,” the bill continues.
The decline of media literacy is not just an American concern. In August 2021, UNICEF released a report on digital misinformation/disinformation and children. Among other worrisome conclusions, the authors found children and young adults do not always know how to judge the trustworthiness of websites they visit.
UNICEF found that just over half of the world’s population — and 69% of those within the 15-24-year-old age group — communicate, socialize, consume and share information on the internet.
In a survey the authors cited from 2020, 76% of 14-24-year-olds found that they had seen mis/disinformation at least once in the previous week. This number rose by 50% in the two years prior to 2020.
States such as Delaware are trying to tackle the problem by creating programs such as the Digital Citizenship Education Act.
Democratic state Sen. Sarah McBride proposed the bill last year in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, siege on the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionists loyal to former President Donald Trump and the misinformation that spread afterwards.
“While we oftentimes think of young people as digital natives that are able to seamlessly navigate the online world, the reality is that young people, like older Americans, struggle with identifying real information from fabricated information,” McBride said.
This bill ensures that “young people have the tools necessary to safely and responsibly navigate the internet for themselves and for one another,” she continued.
“This bill really has two overarching goals. One is to address that crisis for our democracy of disinformation and misinformation but it’s also to address the crisis of mental health that young people are facing because of the prevalence of online bullying,” McBride said.
According to a recent Statista poll, roughly 36.5% of middle and high school students in the United States have experienced some form of online bullying.
Joe Vavala, an eighth grade math teacher at Beacon Middle School in the Cape Henlopen School District in Delaware, is also the parent of two 7-year-olds that will be directly affected by the bill if the governor signs it.
Though Vavala feels the plan was put together in a very effective way, he said what will determine whether it’s truly successful or not is how it is rolled out and how it is supported at the school district level.
“I think staying current and making [the bill] relevant to [students] is a challenge, and I think if you are going to do it, you need some student input,” Vavala said.
“That would be … interesting to bring in,” he added.
One of the arguments against the bill, which garnered no support from Republicans in the state Senate, and that of only four Republicans in the state House, is that it may be teaching children what to think, instead of how to think. McBride rejected this assertion and said it will be up to the districts in Delaware how they teach media literacy in their schools.
“Schools are not going to be saying this legacy media is good and this legacy media is bad. They’re not going to be saying don’t go to this website, go to this other website. They will be saying here are the tools that you need to make those informed decisions yourselves,” McBride said.