South St. Louis County News

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South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Media literacy bill gets hearing in Missouri legislature

Despite growing tensions between elected officials nationwide and the media, Missouri lawmakers are looking to educate students on media and digital literacy through a new pilot program.

Bills in the House and Senate contain provisions to help elementary and secondary students navigate an online world. The bills contain identical language that originated from a model bill written by the advocacy group, Media Literacy Now. Media Literacy Now aims to educate students through the public school system on key media literacy competencies.

Julie Smith, a state advocacy leader for Media Literacy Now and a professor of communications at Webster University, originally brought the model bill to state Rep. Jim Murphy, a Republican from St.Louis, ahead of the 2020 legislative session.

Murphy, the House bill’s sponsor, has introduced varying iterations of the original model bill in the years since then.

“Who’s the sender of the message? What’s their motive or intent? How is the message designed to get my attention? What information is left out? Who benefits from this?,” said Smith. “It’s as simple as asking those five questions about every message.”

The Media Literacy and Critical Thinking Act includes provisions for:

  • Analyzing news content to determine fact from opinion or propaganda.
  • Understanding how to find and interpret visual images such as photographs, videos, maps and graphs.
  • The effects of media, including social media, on behaviors and emotions.
  • Learning about online norms and ethics to reduce cyberbullying.
  • How algorithms and economic influences can affect media content.

If passed by the legislature, a pilot program will begin during the 2025-2026 school year and last through the summer of 2027.

The legislators tasked the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education establishing the pilot program. During this process, the department will select five to seven school districts across the state to formulate a program that covers the above criteria.

Upon the conclusion of the pilot program, the department will analyze reports from participating schools and develop guidelines and sample materials regarding media literacy.

The Senate bill’s sponsor, Sen. Curtis Trent, a Springfield Republican, spoke April 16 to the committee he chairs, the Select Committee on Empowering Missouri Parents and Children, about his concerns with children’s access to media.

“It’s also a … national security issue because not only do our students have access to a wide variety of information that originates in this country,” said Trent, “but they also have access to a wide variety of information that originates in other countries.”

Trent expressed a desire to educate students on how to identify fake or misleading information as he acknowledges that they have access to an endless supply of content when using digital platforms.

Illinois recently passed legislation addressing media literacy education in public high schools across the state. Over the last two years, Illinois high school students have learned skills and resources on accessing, analyzing, creating and consuming media in multiple forms including social media.

Kathy Kiely, a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and the Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies, underscored the importance of social media’s role in a changing media landscape. According to Kiely, the threat of libel lawsuits against journalists and news organizations provides a measure of accountability for mainstream, traditional news sources.

In the modern digital age, “internet service providers have an exemption from libel,” said Kiely, “and that means we have no kind of incentive to police that environment.”

Gentry Middle School in Columbia piloted a media education curriculum last school year that has now expanded to all middle schools in the district. The curriculum was made in collaboration with IREX, a global development and education non-profit organization.

According to a handout about the district’s My Mind > My Media program, middle school students in sixth through eighth grades learn about topics like “How the News Works”; “The Power of Words”; and “Stats and Science in the Media.”

“(The program) is taking the approach that media is a part of our lives,” said Kerry Townsend, the Library Media Coordinator for Columbia Public Schools.

“We all need to find the balance that is the most comfortable to us based on our individual needs so it helps students be reflective about their media use and how its connected to their emotions.”

The My Mind > My Media integration varies by school. A common theme among supporters of media literacy education is the hesitancy to over mandate teachers. With the CPS program, the school decides how to apply the program within existing curriculum being taught already.

“Media literacy is completely cross-curricular so no matter what you’re already teaching, you can easily add media literacy activities,” said Smith, who highlighted her understanding of teacher’s frustrations with mandate curriculums as a former K-12 teacher herself.

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian. It can be republished in print or online. 

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.