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Trapped by the News

Ever since I returned to academic libraries, the role of information literacy had a major focus. We taught classes for a wide range of curricula. Inevitably the teacher assigned a research paper that had the students either present both sides or take one side and present supporting facts. So, the librarians taught the students to focus on authoritative sources, like books and online journal articles. But they liked the ease of the broad Internet news sources. That was the beginning of trouble. Especially now since our “hot topics” i.e., currently debated societal issues, gets us right into the mainstream of fake news sources. What’s to be done? There are a lot of resources.

One is Generation Citizen, a civics education non-profit,, which states its mission believing every student has the right to learn how to effectively participate as citizens. It has operations in number of areas of the country including NYC and develops curriculum on news and information literacy to enable informed citizenship.

Another useful resource is the EdWeek Research Center. It can be used to inform and justify efforts in these areas. A recent report said that most teachers were avoiding the election fraud topic and other Trump related debates. Nearly 90% said they had been avoiding at least some topics. 32% said they were fearful of reprisals from students, administration, or parents if they used these topics for discussion.

But there still is an urgent need to address these issues using information literacy education . This was stated by the head of the Stanford University Education Group, “Every issue of public policy in which dollars and cents matters is an issue that is fought over on the internet. The idea that information literacy is somehow a side issue—no. This is how we become informed on issues that will affect us in the ballot booth." The Group has developed a resource called the Civic Online Reasoning Curriculum.

A third useful resource is the News Literacy Project ( which does studies to uncover the reasons the adult population gets the facts wrong. In their recent studies, they found that only a third of adults could correctly distinguish between facts and opinion statements.

We had found that for students to learn and adjust their critical thinking, they needed to uncover the falsehoods themselves. We did not tell them that what the information they had found was wrong, but instead asked them simply to evaluate it and come to that conclusion themselves. It is work, though, to ensure authority. Verifying data requires consulting multiple sources and evaluating the evidence, along with evaluate the source, organization, and writer of the article.

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