Let me dispense with the pet peeves first. As media literacy educators well know, words matter. So let’s pay attention to the way we’re framing our current stories. It’s not “social” distancing, it’s “physical” distancing. There are lots of ways to stay socially connected even if we can’t touch.
And also, our world is filled with lots of infringements on liberty. Slavery, forced abortion, forced pregnancy, killing or shooting at journalists, jailing peaceful protestors for crimes committed by disruptors attempting to discredit their cause, banning teaching and materials that attempt to address racism, or having your place of worship shot up by white nationalists to name a few. Note that wearing a mask is not on the list. Wearing a mask is not an infringement of liberty. In fact, it’s the opposite. It provides a way for us to exercise some freedom of movement and interaction, even with a pandemic raging.
Now that that’s out of the way…
BECOMING MEDIA MENTORS
Child care providers are essential – not just “essential workers,” but essential to the well-being of families, children, and communities. In the current pandemic they have been asked to provide near miraculous levels of service without anything close to the amount of support they need or deserve. Despite the obstacles, many have stepped up with creativity and open hearts. I am amazed and inspired by their work. So it feels odd to suggest that in order to successfully navigate current circumstance they need to add another task to their already overwhelming list: becoming media mentors.
As a society, we are asking child care providers – among the lowest paid, undervalued professionals in the nation – to carry the weight of life and death decisions. As they tackle the challenge of figuring out how to open their sites in ways that are safe for staff, children, and families, their informed judgment should be enough, but for many people, it’s not. Once policies are put into place, families and staff have to come on board as full partners or it won’t work. With so much misinformation circulating, and so many people resistant or confused about COVID-19, it’s an understatement to say that implementing effective mitigation measures is a challenge.
At the same time, child care professionals are incredibly busy. It isn’t reasonable to expect them to fact-check every new COVID claim uttered by a cable news pundit or posted on FB. Unfortunately, formerly trustworthy sources are now suspect. CDC, which was once the gold standard of reliable scientific information, has been undermined by political operatives. So we can’t even advise people to rely on the government resources that we pay for with our tax dollars. It’s hard to find easy shortcuts.
Media literacy can’t solve all these issues, but if child care professionals can share it’s strategies with the families they serve, it can help. Towards that end, here are some resources:
FOR RELIABLE COVID INFO
The Federation of American Scientists “Ask A Scientist” – my “go to” first stop
University of Washington Libraries has aggregated many vetted resources
For a humorous take, check out this graphic from Jordan Shlain, MD: Covid Risk Factor Chart
FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
Videos can help children understand. They also provide developmentally appropriate language that grown-ups can use. To practice media literacy, instead of just answering kids’ questions, look for the answers together. Here are some places to start:
Sesame Street Caring – an especially helpful collection of videos for families that already trust Sesame Street to provide quality educational media for their children
Stanford Planet v. COVID race – a fun animation about wearing a mask
Colorín Colorado – a site specializing in info for English Language Learners
To support hand washing with soap – an elementary teacher uses a demo illustrating the impact of soap on surface tension to provide young children with a strong visual image that helps them understand the importance of hand washing
UNDERSTANDING COVID MYTHS
National Geographic “Why misinformation about COVID-19’s origins keeps going viral” – How to sift through the muck by Monique Brouilette & Rebecca Renner
University of Washington Spot the Deep Fake – a quick tutorial
Clemson University Spot the Troll – in a guessing game format, gives detailed explanations of the clues you can use to discern legit and troll
Jonathan Jarry, McGill University’s Office for Science and Society “Moss Cures Cancer” video – Pause before you get to the “reveal” in the second half to see if people can spot the techniques being used to sell this false cure. Because no genuine journalism organizations would hire them, lots of conspiracy theorists sell dubious health supplements to provide income, so learning to spot the deception is important.
MEDIA LITERACY QUESTIONS
For questions appropriate for young children, see my blog post: Media Literacy Inquiry with Young Children
For questions appropriate for staff, download the free pdf at Project Look Sharp
GENERAL FACT CHECKING
GENERAL NEWS LITERACY
For current examples accompanied by analysis, subscribe to the News Literacy Project’s free newsletter, The Sift.
For more resources, scroll to the bottom of my blog post: How to Adjust Your “Brights” to See Through the Fog of “Fake” News
TALKING WITH COVID DENIERS
Infodemic Blog – Mike Caulfield at Washington State University has created this excellent resource on how to evaluate COVID-19 claims and how to talk with deniers.
Among other recommendations, he suggests doing what a news fact-checker would do. Look to see what other sources are saying on the same topic (lateral reading). In other words, rather than trying to disprove or affirm the claim itself, investigate the source to see if it’s trustworthy.
I’d add these strategies:
- Share information about media routinely. Make it a feature in your newsletter. Don’t tell people what to think, show them how to investigate. Point out specific flaws in news stories or social media posts (like overgeneralizations, e.g., one person made a mistaken claim about masks, so all claims must be false; or false equivalencies, e.g., 95% of scientists make a particular recommendation, but 5% don’t so we can’t really know because we weight both sides equally even though they aren’t equal). Be sure families understand concepts like “confirmation bias” (that we seek and believe things that affirm our existing beliefs and are more likely to dismiss things that challenge our current beliefs) and “band wagon” (making it seem like most people – or at least most “cool” people – think a particular way, so you should, too).
- Suggest media literacy analysis questions about sources and provide opportunities for discussion. For example: On a topic like COVID-19, why would we especially want to seek information from scientists? Are there any reasons not to trust information from scientists? How might we discern when/who to trust a scientist and when to avoid them? What would you want to know about a scientist to discern whether or not they are trustworthy on this topic? What sorts of lateral reading could you do to discover whether they have relevant experience to the questions you’re asking or what their peers think of their work/expertise?
- Remind families of their aspirations for their children and help them see the connection to logic and reasoning skills (e.g., you can’t be a doctor or lawyer or business executive without some serious science and math chops). Note that it will help their children succeed if their thinking skills are nurtured at home, as well as in your care.
- Share real-life examples about schools that re-opened and did or didn’t follow the protocols you’re using. What happened?
This list isn’t intended to be comprehensive. It suggests places to start for early childhood educators who only have time to look at a couple of resources. My apologies to the creators of many fine materials that have been left out.
As I write this, more than 200,000 Americans have died and nearly 7 million have tested positive for COVID-19, including half a million children. We don’t know what the long-term medical, economic, or social consequences will be for the people who recovered from their initial symptoms. Clearly this is serious and the grown-ups in the room can’t afford to cover their eyes like a toddler to make it all go away. Be a media mentor. Keep yourself and the people around you from getting infected – with the disease or with ignorance.
This post was created as a resource to supplement an Engagement Strategies Early Childhood Investigations webinar: “Engage Families and Staff about COVID-19 Protocols Using Using Media Literacy “
If you’re interested in media literacy education in early childhood, you might want to also take a look at the post MEDIA LITERACY AND OUTDOOR EDUCATION FOR YOUNG CHILDREN .