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Advocates push media literacy training in schools

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Local advocates are trying to get Arizona legislators to adopt media literacy programs in schools but Democrats say they are giving up on the idea because of years of pushback from Republicans. (Photo by Pexels)

Local advocates are pushing for lawmakers to implement media literacy training in schools around Arizona, something states across the country are already doing.

The other states provide these training programs to help students learn how to navigate the web responsibly, but in Arizona no such requirement exists. Democrats say they are giving up on the idea due to years of pushback from Republicans. However, Mark Bordine, the leader of the Arizona chapter of Media Literacy NOW is continuing to fight.

In previous years, starting in 2016, Bordine worked with Democratic senators including Juan Mendez, of Tempe; Christine Marsh, of Phoenix; and Victoria Steele, of Tucson, to require media literacy training for K-12 students. In 2021, Senate Bill 1704 would have provided funding to teacher professional development in media literacy, as well as incorporated media literacy into standard K-12 education.

Media literacy helps students identify different types of media and understand the messages they are sending, according to Common Sense Media. It can include older forms of media, including TV, radio, newspapers and magazines, as well as newer forms of technology such as text messages, memes, viral content, social media and video games.

Media literacy is intended to help learners use critical thinking and become smart consumers, as well as producers of products and information. It also helps students understand persuasive messaging from a variety of viewpoints to guide them toward seeing the larger role that media plays in society.

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Mark Bordine, the leader of the Arizona chapter of Media Literacy NOW (Photo courtesy of Media Literacy NOW)

Bordine said he has been trying to get a bill on media literacy passed since 2016 and has attempted three times, including with Senate Bill 1704. Although Democrats are still in support of Bordine’s idea, they feel “blocked off” because the bill is not bipartisan.

Bordine said that he had attempted to reach out to Republican senators, including Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, who said he was not interested. Bordine said that the few Republicans who were interested in the bill backed off once they realized the lack of support from their leadership.

“A lot of them don’t seem to care for the idea of just adding another rule or regulation, although I think that they’re kind of selective about that because there are other instances where they’ve done that,” Bordine said, referring to times conservatives have placed restrictions on race and ethnicity-related lessons. He then suggested that Republicans are “leery” about the process and who would decide what information would be taught.

Bordine and many Democrats say that the Republican hands-off approach to media literacy education is biased. This is due to the growing restrictions on discussing race and LGBTQ+ topics in the classroom.

In July 2021, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill banning the teaching of critical race theory in Arizona public schools. Republicans say this is a step toward combating racism in Arizona, but Democrats say it will have the opposite effect.

However, Arizona Republicans say they are not against media literacy education. Boyer called Senate Bill 1704 “redundant, repetitive” and a “money bill.” He pointed out that Arizona was already the first state to pass a civics bill, which, while it does not emphasize media literacy, requires an understanding of American government.

Boyer said the content of the curriculum was not his main concern. But he said that he, and other Republicans believe that mandating curriculum is not up to the Legislature.

“It’s not the place of the Legislature to set education standards,” Boyer said. Republicans are suggesting that Bordine may have better luck proposing his ideas to the Arizona State Board of Education.

Media literacy advocates feel that Republicans are trying to politicize the movement. This is despite many Arizona Republicans saying that their hesitancy is more practical than political. However, Democrats see media literacy as teaching children critical thinking skills without political bias.

“That’s the problem. It’s been a political football in most states, because the whole notion of creating legislation to enforce a curriculum is bothersome to a lot of people,” said Douglas Lare, a member of the Media Literacy NOW board of directors.

With children spending an increasing amount of time using technology, media literacy advocates, including those at Media Literacy NOW, are becoming concerned.

Media Literacy NOW defines media literacy as an approach that “develops critical thinking skills around all types of media, builds an understanding of how media messages shape our culture and society and gives people tools to advocate for change in media spaces.”

Media Literacy NOW advocates for the importance of media literacy because, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, children ages 8-18 spend an average of seven hours and 38 minutes a day using media entertainment when outside of school.

“Just looking at the bill it’s very proscriptive in telling the State Board what to do” Boyer said. “Those things should happen at the Board level, not the Legislature. I voted against a cursive writing mandate even though I support it because it should happen at the Board level. Not the Legislature telling the Board.”

Currently, many states, including Arizona’s neighbors, are making strides toward media literacy education. Governors in Colorado and Utah signed legislation that will promote media literacy training in K-12 schools.

In Illinois, House Bill 234 requires every public high school in the state to require every student to complete a unit of media literacy instruction. In Washington, legislation was passed calling for school districts to draft media literacy curriculum to be implemented into schools.

Arizona students are not required to be given media literacy training, but they are required to pass a civics exam. Arizona was the first state to require high school students to pass a civics exam. The exam tests students on their understanding of U.S. history, government and geography. A score of at least 60% is required to pass.

Bordine calls this a “step in the right direction.” However, he is not fully satisfied with it because, in his words, the curriculum does not educate students on cyberbullying, internet safety, privacy or persuasion strategies. He said he feels that this leaves children vulnerable.

Despite years of pushback, Bordine continues to fight for media literacy in classrooms, calling it a “worthy” cause.

As for the future of his campaign? Bordine says it all depends on the political climate. He is hoping that after the election season is over, more Democrats are elected, and a media literacy bill will have a better chance of passing.

 

 

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