On November 8, 2016, social studies teachers gathered at Alexander Hamilton Custom’s House in lower Manhattan for a professional development day on “Elections and Media Literacy. “ I gave a workshop on “Media Literacy, World History and Elections: Tools to Breakdown Walls.” At this writing, the conference has taken on more significance. With a focus on whether Russia had influence in the U.S. elections in order to elect Donald Trump or whether the rise of fake news had an impact on the elections, the topics on media literacy and elections has taken on a new urgency.
What can we, as educators, do? With media literacy, we must educate ourselves about how URLs are purchased and/or obtained. We must teach our students and ourselves how to read web sites far more critically and to research those web sites to know the authors and the authors’ purposes. Lastly, like any good historian, we must encourage them to question the evidence and use their investigative skills to dig beyond the superficial.
In my presentation, I spoke about the importance of facilitating and curating materials for students to discover the past. A couple weeks later, I encountered again the importance of curating and guiding. Educators are collectors of evidence and some use this evidence in a creative fashion to teach students how to read material culture as demonstrated by Michael Freydin and Matthew Foglino two New York City public school teachers and members of the Association of Teachers of Social Studies. At their recent National Council of Social Studies conference presentation on increasing student engagement through the arts and artifacts, they demonstrated how to train students to read art and artifacts from the Middle Ages to draw some conclusions about the past and the past lives of people.
What if we collected fake items such as news or historical websites and then curated those items just a we do with sites created by reputable sources or peer review historical web sites? Part of the AHA’s Tuning Project on the Discipline Core encourages that history students “recognize the provisional nature of knowledge, the disciplinary preference for complexity, and the comfort with ambiguity that history requires.”
In a time of rapid change, history teachers must continue to collect, curate, juxtapose, and educate about the media, its uses, and how sometimes certain ambiguities are created for a purpose. That purpose may not ultimately be to support engaged citizenship but to undermine it.