As a former newspaper reporter, media literacy was something I gravitated toward as a second-career teacher, culminating in designing my very own media literacy course for seventh and eighth graders. After sharing techniques that savvy advertisers use, I remember Rachel creating a quirky ad for an out-of-this-world shoe that incorporated many of these persuasive elements. As a memento, I saved Matthew’s poster promoting ways to use social media responsibly to ensure his digital tattoo would not negatively impact his future self.

I loved every day of those several years, even when the pandemic demanded we teach and learn from home. In fact, those particular days provided such fertile teaching ground to ensure students had the tools they needed to be safe online during an isolating time in our history.

While I left the classroom to work at the district level, then the state level and finally the national education nonprofit level, media literacy has never left my mind.
It may be why I pour over artificial intelligence articles in the news and watch how my teacher friends are using it in little and big ways in their classrooms. It may be why I still seek out media literacy-centered social media posts, which recently reminded me that Media Literacy Week was the last full week in October.

Since a week is not enough time, let’s shine an even brighter spotlight every day on media literacy, which matters more than it ever has in our media-rich lifetime.

Studies continue to find that high social media usage among young children and teenagers is linked to depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, low self-esteem and more. Remember the word the World Health Organization came up with during the height of COVID: “infodemic?” Years later, online information overload continues to mount, and sifting through it all to determine what is genuine and real can be headache-inducing.

It’s been a year since ChatGPT began dominating headlines; there still is so much to glean from how these AI-driven technologies will impact education. And impact it definitely will.

To be ready, educators need more instructional resources and guidance so that they are providing students what they need when they need it.

Policy momentum to infuse media literacy into classrooms across the country is picking up speed. Last January, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to require media literacy be taught in K-12, passing with bipartisan support. Earlier this month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill ensuring media literacy will be a subject that students learn from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Closer to home, media literacy is no stranger to the New Mexico Roundhouse in Santa Fe, thanks to the efforts of Pamela Pereyra, founder and CEO of Media Savvy Citizens (MSC).

In early 2020, I was one of the educators chosen to participate in her media literacy boot camp for those teaching English language arts and social studies, learning ways to design and put into motion impactful lessons that harness media literacy. Her focus on middle school teachers is brilliant, as these educators spend their days with the age group in most need of strategies to detect bias, analyze media messages and navigate an evolving communication landscape. MSC’s second cohort of teachers last year was even more diverse in content, producing resources and projects with clear assessment strategies to gauge student media literacy competencies and learning engagement. One teacher even incorporated AI, having students find incongruencies and bias in AI-generated text.

Policy makers and educators need everyone to focus on media literacy as AI continues to weave its way into our country’s personal and professional tapestry. Ground yourself in the Media Literacy Week toolkit and check out Common Sense Media resources. Then, contact your lawmakers with the help of Media Literacy Now.

Knowledge is power, and always will be. Let’s be the guides on the side for our learners, the leaders of tomorrow. For me, media literacy is a lifelong journey, probably because I am a lifelong learner in a digital world that is never static.

Kelly Pearce taught elementary and then middle school in Rio Rancho for about a dozen years. She is the media manager at Teach Plus.