Tag Archives: digital literacy

POST TRUTH? POST TRUST? Why Students Really Need a Civics Education

This post is written by member Susan Ellenberg.

The emphasis on core academics has seen a steady increase over the past number of years, but a discipline that has disappeared nearly entirely from our students’ curriculum is an education that emphasizes an understanding of citizenry: not only how government works at each level, but why engagement with the political process is critical. Students, as well as the rest of us, need to understand what social and economic interests are addressed by different levels and branches of government and the implications of a lack of engagement. Related valuable skills to hone include the ability to distinguish fact from opinion, discern the validity of sources, and engage in civil dialogue with those who hold divergent views.

Pundits and others claim that we have moved to a “post truth” era. Of course, there can be no such thing. Truth simply IS. I argue we are in a “post trust” era, wherein it is acceptable to dismiss facts simply by asserting that one doesn’t believe them: the concepts, the sources, or the implications. Without a doubt, the curious intellectual can be hard pressed to find truth. Much of the “news” on traditional and social media has a clear bias and intentionally—by inclusion, omission, or emphasis—creates a narrative in line with a particular predetermined worldview. Stanford University researchers recently released a study, “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning,” that found that students from middle school through college had a difficult time distinguishing fact from fiction. Middle school students had trouble distinguishing advertisements from news stories. High school students reading about gun laws did not notice that a chart came from a gun owners’ political action committee. And college students failed to look beyond a dot-org URL to inquire about the potential biases of authors of a site that presents only one side of a contentious issue. In every case and at every level, the researchers “were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation.”

The link between digital literacy and citizenship is strong: it is imperative that students learn to read and think critically and analytically. In order to teach those skills, they must have a lens through which to analyze information they read: they must have a strong understanding of how government works and comprehend the duties and responsibilities of citizenship* with regard to each other as members of a political body and to the government that is supposed to represent them.

How can we accomplish this? Public school instructional minutes are nuggets of gold and counted just as carefully, so simply adding a civics class to grade level curricula is not the best option. Fortunately, Common Core does allow for some flexibility in content and proscribed skills can be mastered through a wide variety of content. School districts might consider any of the following options to promote civic engagement and related digital literacy.

  • Integrate aspects of civics at every grade level through social studies and history classes.
  • Adopt critical analysis as an interdisciplinary skill and integrate it within every area of study.
  • Focus student government and leadership classes on a civics curriculum as part of the work they do in school leadership.
  • Incorporate digital literacy across subject disciplines.
  • Award community service credits for participation in extracurricular civics lessons or internships in government offices.
  • Develop and offer elective credits for participation and completion of a summer civics program.
  • Expand opportunities for student participation in programs such as mock trials and Model United Nations.
  • Ensure that student government organizations are empowered to make decisions that have impact.
  • Focus on the intentional development of empathy as the cornerstone to civil, respectful conversation

Finding a way to increase civic engagement and digital literacy among our youth is quickly gaining favor. Currently, the nonprofit organization Civics Education Initiative is leading a grassroots effort to encourage state legislators to enact, as a condition for high school graduation, a requirement that students pass a test on 100 basic facts from US history and civics culled from the United States Citizenship Civics Test. Other organizations such as Center for Civic Education offer sample curricula. The Stanford History Education group is also creating civics resources for educators.

The experience of the 2016 election, not just the result, but the lack of meaningful conversation and factual accountability, as well as the very low voter turnout and lack of understanding of the implications of not voting, galvanizes me to work for meaningful change in this arena, both within my school district and across my broader community. Our future depends on this.

*In this context, I do not mean “citizenship” as the formal, legal description of status, but as an engaged member of a community.

Susan Ellenberg has worked as an attorney, an educator, and a community advocate. She is committed to strengthening her community and ensuring that all children have the opportunity to succeed. Susan currently serves as Vice President of the San Jose Unified School District Board of Trustees. 

What Happened in Your State This October?

capitol buildingThis past month, twelve policy analysts published reports about what occurred in the following states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Higher Education

Dan Melzer analyzed the NCES Report on Remedial Coursetaking and the Center for American Progress Report on Remedial Education, offering his insights and concerns that both reports fail to cite the research on basic writing. Erin O’Neill listed Recommendations from the New Mexico English Remediation Task Force Report, July 2016, which include using multiple measures, sharing resources, supporting writing centers, and offering accelerated co-requisite composition courses.

Michael Gos noted the Dual Credit Concerns of college faculty in Texas regarding the rigor of dual credit classes. He described the 60×30 TX Initiative implemented to ensure that 60 percent of Texas’s workforce of 25-35-year-olds holds a postsecondary credential.

Alexis Hart reported that the Faculty in [the] Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education [Went] on Strike after working without a contract for more than a year.

P12 Education

In PARCC Controversy Continues after Release of 2016 Scores, Erin O’Neill addressed the concerns of teachers in New Mexico that the scores counted “too much” in evaluations.

Likewise, Stevi Quate wrote in Changes in State Assessments Impact the Whole System about how switching to PARCC in Colorado led to more students opting out and to Denver revising its rating system. Stevi also noted that despite an increase in high school graduation rates, Colorado is still ranked low nationally.

Although there are Rising Graduation Rates in Idaho, Darlene Dyer reported that the new tracking system reports a lower than expected rate.

Aileen Hower concluded that [Pennsylvania Was] Pulling Academic Scores from [Its Department of Education] Website for Further Review due to its failure to include scores of IEP students.

Emily Zuccaro shared that Kentucky [Was] Named the 15th Best State for Teachers measured by “Job Opportunity and Competition” and “Academic and Work Environment.”

Clancy Ratliff analyzed Louisiana’s Draft Framework for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), noting that many of the suggested changes are in line with NCTE positions. Derek Kulnis discussed ESSA Implementation in New York State, reporting that New York will continue to gather feedback from parents, educators, and students throughout the state in November.

Derek Kulnis also described how libraries are sharing Wi-Fi hot spots, in Internet Access for Students in New York City, and, in New York City Hosts Pre-K Learning Lab, how New York City invited policymakers and teachers from twelve cities to view the rollout of its universal preK program.

Jalissa Bates reported on the new mentorship initiative, in Louisiana Preservice Teachers Gain a Full Year in the Classroom with Pay.

Apropos for Media Literacy Week, Robin Holland reported that Ohio’s Brunswick City Schools Launch Partnership with Discovery Education to provide more digital learning.

Marginalizing the Marginalized with Internet Filtering


NCTE, along with ALA and AASL, are intellectual freedom advocates. In honor of Banned Websites Awareness Day,  here is a post from Doug Johnson, on the filtering of educational websites in schools.


High school student Rachel is increasingly concerned over racial issues in her community and plans to write her senior thesis on this topic. There is an active “Black Lives Matter” movement organization in her community that uses Facebook to communicate. Her school blocks Facebook and she does not have Internet access at home.

Middle-schooler Diego and his friends are having a great time using the iPad to create and edit videos. They think their last production about school bullying would be helpful to other students, but their school blocks YouTube. Diego shares the computer and dial-up Internet connection in his home with both his parents and two siblings.

Fifth-grade teacher Ms. Dickens uses GoogleDocs in her class to facilitate peer-editing online, so she was pleased to learn about a program that would allow students from families with low incomes to check out computers and wifi “hot spots” for use at home. But she was told that GoogleApps was blocked by the hotspot’s filter.

Scholar Henry Jenkins has long expressed a concern that students who do not master collaboration-enabling technologies will not be able to fully engage in modern cultural and political life. About “participatory culture”, he writes:

“Our goals should be to encourage youth to develop the skills, knowledge, ethical frameworks, and self-confidence needed to be full participants in contemporary culture. … A growing body of scholarship suggests potential benefits of these forms of participatory culture, including opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, a changed attitude toward intellectual property, the diversification of cultural expression, the development of skills valued in the modern workplace, and a more empowered conception of citizenship.”1

Or as is more commonly expressed in political circles, if you aren’t at the table you’re probably on the menu. People who are not able to be at the digital table where discussions are held and opinions are influenced are very likely not to have their interests factored into big decisions.

Yet many schools make great efforts to keep students (and staff) from using social networking tools that enable sharing ideas online. These schools consider blocking blogs, wikis, social networking venues, collaborative-editing tools, and photo/video sharing tools necessary if children are to be “protected.” Many educators view social networking sites as frivolous distractions that prevent students from paying attention in class or focusing on other school work.

Much of the intellectual freedom work on which ALA and other well-meaning organizations have focused has been about the censorship of professionally written materials. As I opined in 2013:

“My concern is that in our professional efforts to prevent censorship, we are focusing so completely on assuring access to the ideas of others that we neglect the other side of intellectual freedom: the right for all to express their own ideas, information, and art.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Intellectual freedom includes having the right to create and disseminate information and opinions as well as having the right to access the intellectual products of others.”2

I called this “the neglected side of intellectual freedom” and this neglect becomes especially egregious when looking at education through the lens of cultural proficiency and equity.

In families that can afford technology and Internet access in their homes, evenings, weekends, summer breaks, and holidays are times students can practice social networking skills and engage fully in our participatory culture. Yet not every student, especially those who come from economically disadvantaged homes, has the opportunity outside of school to use social media.

Schools have begun to address the need for all students to not just have a device that can be used to access school resources, but the need for all students to have Internet connectivity outside of regular school hours as well.3  By providing wifi hotspots for checkout, by opening computer labs before and after schools, and by working with other community organizations such as the public libraries and community centers, some schools are making real attempts to bridge the online learning opportunity gap among students.

But in these efforts, are schools providing not just access to educational resources such as learning management systems, e-books, digital textbooks, and online reference materials – materials written by others – but are they also providing the means for all children to express opinions, engage in social dialogue, and work collaboratively with their peers?

This is the intellectual freedom issue of today.


1Jenkins, Henry. “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture” MacArthur Foundation, 2006
2Johnson, Doug. “The Neglected Side of Intellectual Freedom” LMC, March/April 2013
3 Johnson, Doug. “Helping to Close the Digital Divide” Educational Leadership, February 2015.

Doug Johnson is the Director of Technology for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage (MN) Public Schools. His teaching experience has included work in grades K-12. He is the author of nine books, columns in Educational Leadership and Library Media Connection, the Blue Skunk Blog, and articles published in over forty books and periodicals. Doug has worked with over 200 organizations around the world and has held leadership positions in state and national organizations, including ISTE and AASL. You can reach Doug at doug0077@gmail.com

#NCTEchat 3.15.15 at 8pm ET: Advocate for Literacy


Q1: What are the organizational conditions that support powerful literacy learning for which we need to advocate? #NCTEchat

Learn: Read more on the Literacy in Learning Exchange.
Act: Add your thoughts to this Ideascale project.

Q2: When we advocate for literacy, whom do we want to persuade to take action? #NCTEchat

Learn: Review these tips for sharing your views with policy makers.
Act: Reach out to your local, state, or federal lawmakers.

Q3: What kinds of advocacy are you doing from which others committed to powerful literacy education could learn? #NCTEchat

Learn: Advocacy looks like lots of things, check out some strategies here.
Act: Share your stories about assessment, we’ll make sure they’re heard!

Q4: What could @NCTE and @NCLE do to support your advocacy for literacy education? #NCTEchat

Learn: Read the 2015 NCTE Education Policy Platform.
Act: Share your suggestions in the comment box below.

Q5: What’s one thing you could commit to do during @NCTE Advocacy Month to advocate for literacy? #NCTEchat

Learn: Check out our advocacy pages on the NCTE website.
Act: We’ve got a whole calendar full of suggestions!

Disciplinary Literacy

connectedness (2)Do you collaborate with colleagues in different disciplines when developing curriculum? Do you have conversations with your peers about how literacy skills and instruction differ depending on the subject you’re exploring? Does your school or institution have a shared understanding of what literacy means across disciplines? This is something we’ve been thinking about a lot at NCTE, because if literacy is everyone’s job, we need to find more ways to work and learn together.

“Ensure comprehensive literacy education that . . . integrates literacy instruction across the disciplines.”  — 2015 NCTE Education Policy Platform