Librarians and Teachers Battle Fake News

By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer & Chief Marketing Officer, Curriki

“Fake news” is the latest buzz phrase in our cultural lexicon. Often referred to by journalists, politicians and even our new president, it has come to mean many things. Sometimes it refers to falsely generated news that many people believe is truth. Sometimes it refers to news people don’t want to hear, and just label “fake.”

But whatever the origin or the interpretation of fake news,” it’s critical that students learn the vital skill of differentiating between real news and false news. So teachers and librarians are taking up arms in the battle against fake news.

Here are a some of interesting articles and resources about fake news and information literacy that you might want to discuss with your students.

Source: Creative Commons

Source: Creative Commons

Librarians Fight Fake News With Education

A story in the Cape Cod (MA) Times recently mentions Janelle Hagen, a school librarian in Seattle, who feels her job includes “equipping students to fight through lies, distortion and trickery to find their way to truth.” Students fared poorly when tested on their ability to differentiate advertising from the truth.

So who should teach our kids the difference between real and fake news? Librarians, says Debra E. Kachel, a former library coordinator and now adjunct professor at Antioch University in Seattle, WA, in a blog on pennlive.com. She writes, “In a post-truth era where emotional appeals and unsubstantiated claims sway popular opinions over factual information, who teaches our K-12 students how to interpret the multitude of media messages that daily bombard them? How do students learn to separate the valuable from the worthless to make good decisions and form valid opinions?” The answer, she says, is librarians – but she points out that this is not the perfect solution because of economic inequity in resources.

“A new vision for school library programs needs to be embraced. The antiquated stereotype of a librarian as a keeper of books needs to be dispelled,” says Kachel. “School leaders need to learn how to leverage school library programs and librarians to teach critical information skills, digital, and media literacy.”

A Post-Truth World

shutterstock_12040318Now more than ever, in what many are calling a “post-truth” world, students need to learn to sift fact from fiction and news from opinion.

But in a recent panel titled “Libraries in a Post-Truth World,” librarians took issue with the phrase “post-truth.”

  • It’s “not post-truth but post-accountability,” said Mary Robb. “The responsibility is on all of us to call out inaccuracies. It is important to teach students the skills to tell fact from fiction.”
  • “Post-truth” is a useful way to think about how information and politics are converging. Immediacy sacrifices deep digging. When people only read headlines, what kind of information are they taking from that and what does that mean? Variety of the internet includes misinformation and disinformation (and ‘bullshit’),” said Melissa Zimdars.
  • “Perspective does matter. Words have power even if they’re untrue,” said Catherine Tousignant.

Information Literacy

Oberlin’s Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence, in a recent blog, pointed out that two days after the inauguration, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, argued that the White House had offered “alternative facts” to the media when it stated, untruthfully, that Trump’s swearing-in was witnessed by “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.” This fascinating article examines our responsibilities as educators to teach young people “information literacy,” which bolsters students’ abilities to find, evaluate and use information.

The News Literacy Project (NLP) is a nonpartisan national education nonprofit that works with educators and journalists to teach middle school and high school students how to sort fact from fiction in the digital age. NLP provides these students with the essential skills they need to become smart, active consumers of news and information and engaged, informed citizens.

The NLP features a wonderful lesson called Facing Ferguson: News Literacy in a Digital Age that explores “how implicit biases shape our understanding of the world, and how news literacy skills and concepts can help students find reliable information to make decisions, take action, and become effective civic participants in today’s complex information landscape.”

Other resources and articles:

Silence is not Golden

The School Library Journal, in an Open Letter to Librarians, declares that “Silence is not Golden.” Writer Elissa Malespina concludes an interesting article by saying, “When alternative facts become reality, librarianship is under attack. Librarians are the ultimate alternative-fact fighters; we hold the key to helping students learn fact from fiction.”


Photo of Janet Pinto

Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer & Chief Marketing Officer, leads and manages all of Curriki’s content development, user experience and academic direction. Learn more at Curriki.org.

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