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Do students need to learn about fake news? And more generally, should they learn how news is created and how to evaluate its credibility?

Thousands of schools all over the world believe the answer is yes.

Over 3,300 educators from all 50 states in the US and 69 countries outside the US have adopted a curriculum to teach kids how to distinguish facts from fiction. The curriculum was developed by a US nonprofit called the News Literacy Project. It has 12 lessons which teachers can incorporate into their current classes and a virtual classroom with online courses and exercises.

“We hope that news literacy and media literacy education becomes embedded into the American educational system,” says Damaso Reyes, director of community partnerships at the News Literacy Project.

The curriculum was developed in 2008, but Reyes says it saw a large increase in demand and interest in its work more recently, especially after the last US election.

George Jackson Academy in New York City is among the new adopters. English teacher David Hong just started teaching 8th graders news literacy in November, as part of his English classes.

“I think with the election, with the increasing social stratification, it just seems like a more urgent issue,” says Hong. He hopes that the lessons will not only teach students how to evaluate the credibility of the information they consume, but also help them understand what to do with it.

“I asked them before, ‘What do you do with information that you don’t like or that makes you uncomfortable or that you disagree with?’ The most common response is that I don’t think about. I take a nap. ” says Hong. “Basically they don’t know how to handle it.”

In the introductory class, Hong gives students articles from the Onion satirical publication, John Oliver shows and other real world examples and asks students to determine if what they see is news, opinion, propaganda, entertainment or something else. He’s focused on getting his students to look at content critically.

David Hong explaining different categories of information.
David Hong explaining different categories of information.

“So what do you think you should do about this information?” Hong asked, after showing students clips from the John Oliver Show. “It’s funny, but he did offer a lot of information on the border wall, on immigration policy.”

“I think you can use the information because it’s informative. But he’s kind of selling an opinion I guess depending on what you believe, you may not want to consider that very valuable,” answered one boy.

“I think you should absorb it and also see the other side of the argument. If you disagree, you can take it in and use it for your own knowledge,” another boy said.

There was no “right answer” given. Hong kept it as an open discussion. He says he makes sure that he respects each student’s perspective, which is often influenced by their family’s political beliefs.

“I definitely anticipate a lot of push back against the things that their parents believe or their friends believe. ” says Hong, “I just hope they walk away with a more complicated view of how information works and the world around them.”

Hong says eventually, he wants students to take the critical thinking with them into the real world.

“They become more aware of the assumptions and beliefs that they have and how those things actually matter,” says Hong. “They matter more than offending somebody, than a little moment with the teacher where they might get in trouble for saying something. These beliefs actually become actions and they become policy, they become events, they become the world that they live in.” 

Watch the video above to watch Hong’s approach to teaching news literacy, and what the students have to say about our news landscape today.

And here’s another video with tips on how to spot fake news, from Damaso Reyes with the News Literacy Project.