It’s always been important to be well informed, but as we all know, recent years have made this an urgent need. From buses touting figures about NHS spending, US postal votes and algorithms that mean you only see half of a story, being on top of current affairs doesn’t mean a Sunday afternoon leafing through a broadsheet like my parents used to do. Instead it means maintaining a constant vigilance when viewing the vast array of media we’re exposed to.
Children do have a natural ability to question what they’re told. Beyond the more troublesome ‘whys?’ behind a clear instruction, I’ve seen them show an instinctive desire to question information. When I started out as a History teacher, the kid who would ask ‘but how do you know the Battle of Hastings happened in 1066’ would drive me mad – I saw questions like this as classic time-wasting techniques. But I soon realised that this was exactly the kind of habit I wanted to foster. Yes, sometimes it led down a long, winding and existential rabbit hole that needed careful management! – but ultimately, if I expected students to question the historical sources pushed under their noses in exams, I had to encourage them to question all the information they were being fed, even from me. It was just fundamentally important that that question led onto research – their research – so that they digested and owned the answer, and could deploy that knowledge later as it was needed.
Like literacy, numeracy and digital skills, fake news, or the discernment and scrutiny of sources has to be tackled in every area of the curriculum – it’s not just the jurisdiction of PSHE or Citizenship. Social media, Whatsapp messages and web-banner links that students encounter every day aren’t timetabled, so this can’t be. Science offers a chance to address anti-vaccine movements and flat-earthers, Geography to consider how natural disasters and their wake are reported, Maths to consider employment and poverty statistics. I sympathise absolutely with the feeling of ‘another thing we need to do?!’ but it’s hard to think of many other things that could have such a profound effect on how our future will be shaped.
If you’d like to make more use of news coverage in your subject area, remember that NLA licensed schools are eligible to set up a Newspapers for Schools library account for free. This gives you access to national and regional newspapers going back to 2006. CLA has also created a pack of activity ideas using newspaper articles, complete with subject-specific case studies. Finally, sites like Fullfact.org may also help students in their journey to being fake-news savvy.