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Our digital students deserve media literacy

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Laura listened as I explained a year ago that middle-schoolers typically spend nine hours online each day, according to data collected by Common Sense Media in 2015.

It seemed a ton of time to the seventh-grader, who had just enrolled in my media literacy elective class.

Soon after, she got a smartphone and realized how her Snapchat social media account devoured her free hours. She was a citizen in a brave new world.

Yet, early in the semester, she did not know what it meant to be a digital citizen.

How much information should she reveal about herself online? Should she post photographs without checking to see if they were copyrighted? What are ways for her to distinguish between genuine and false news?

In a world dizzy with technology, our students — more than 80 percent of them have access to cell phones — need tools to navigate media and become wise cyberspace citizens. Media literacy should be injected into all of our New Mexico schools.

If not, recent schemes consuming school and police officials’ time will get worse. In Maryland a year ago, for example, middle school students were encouraged via Snapchat to send nude selfies to an anonymous user who posted them to a website viewable by the students.

More states are offering digital citizenship instruction across elementary and secondary grades.

Take California, which passed into law last fall a measure requiring the state department of education to publish media literacy resources online and provide teacher professional development opportunities. In Washington, a new law requires the state superintendent to create a website that details successful media literacy practices.

We owe it to our students to help them tell the difference between news and advertisements. We owe it to our students to ensure their digital tattoo is one of which they are proud.

We owe it to our students to remind them again and again not to divulge personal information online. It may be a matter of life or death.

New Mexico needs to take a strong stance. There is not enough being done to shine the spotlight on media literacy.

Now is the time to:

• require elementary and secondary schools to offer stand-alone media literacy courses or embed curriculum into content areas

• support Senate Bill 194, calling for $400,000 for media-literacy teacher education

Adults, too, need to understand the ins and outs of the latest digital platforms and resources so they can empower students to do the same. In addition, it is vital to advocate for House Bill 400, which would fund a statewide survey to find out whether media literacy is being taught, as well as establish an advisory committee of educators to help inject media literacy across multiple content areas.

• provide education opportunities to help parents guide their children along the ever-changing landscape of social media.

These days, Laura has fully embraced media literacy and each time she goes online, she is leery of social media posts and makes sure to check their legitimacy.

The eighth-grader is back in my class this semester, because she knows she has more to learn.

It’s our responsibility to ensure all New Mexico’s youth are digital detectives, just like Laura.

(Kelly Pearce teaches media literacy at Lincoln Middle School in Rio Rancho.)