Media Literacy required in Illinois high schools

Approved on July 9 by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, House Bill 234 will require all public high schools in Illinois to include media literacy in their curriculum in the 2022-2023 school year. 

With this bill, Illinois becomes the first state to require media literacy in public high schools.

Musonda Kapatamoyo, chair of the Mass Communications Department, said he believes the bill will help students greatly.

“I think it will help them [to] basically understand what’s going on in the media landscape. So right now there is a lot of confusion about the sources of information and a lot of confusion about interpretation of information,” Kapatamoyo said. “Having some training in media literacy helps everybody — the students and society at large — to basically discern what is a true story and what’s not a true story.”

For his department, Kapatamoyo said he thinks the bill will have a positive impact on mass communications students and how classes will be taught in the future.

“I’m hoping that in the future, a couple years from now, the students that come here are going to be able to have the means to have access to the media that they want and to critically analyze it and also to communicate information they want to communicate in a manner that people understand and is actually a genuine piece of information,” Kapatamoyo said. 

Kapatamoyo said he will try to collaborate with local high schools such as Edwardsville High School in trying to get teachers ready to teach courses on media literacy.

“What we’ve done in this department is we’ve created a certificate program in media literacy. This certificate program is nine credit hours, which means it’s three courses. A high school teacher takes this [for that] certificate and once they graduate with that, they are able to go teach the students about media literacy in a much better understanding because our certificate program is cutting edge,” Kapatamoyo said.

Political Science Professor Laurie Rice said she believes media literacy is especially important at a young age to help educate people on finding reliable sources of information.

“Media literacy is an important skill to have, and despite the digital savvy that most college students have, media literacy doesn’t automatically accompany that. I routinely have students expressing that they’re not sure which news sources to trust or where to go for good information, so I think this will be a helpful skill for students to develop prior to coming to college,” Rice said.

Mass Communications Professor Gary Hicks said he welcomes the inclusion of media literacy in high schools, but sees some limitations to how it will be implemented.

“I think that media literacy is extraordinarily important. Obviously we talk about it at the university level … But it concerns me on several levels. I think that high school is simply too late. We live in a society in which children from a very young age are being commodified and they are being taught by corporations — through the media — how to behave in a society and they are not being taught critical or analytical skills,” Hicks said.

Rice said she believes the more recent issues with finding reliable sources of news has created the polarization America faces today.

“I think it’s become clear in the last couple of years that American’s media choices are helping to fuel polarization, and so we have reached a place where at least extreme partisans have trouble agreeing on a common set of facts. We see that in news about the 2020 election [and] we see that happening right now with COVID-19, masks and vaccines,” Rice said. “People’s information choices have an impact on what they believe is true and how they view the world.”

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