TEMPE, AZ — They are a generation often maligned for their digital dependence. High school kids always seem to be buried in their phones, interacting and sharing through social media feeds and messaging apps. Are they really paying attention to the world around them?
As we learned, working with kids at McClintock High School on the News Literacy Project, they’re actually paying more attention than we think.
Our goal was to produce a joint project. The students would produce a story examining news literacy for their generation. We would produce a behind-the-scenes story, telling our viewers what we learned.
News Literacy Week is coming up! @Steve_Irvin is working with the students at McClintock High School to highlight where younger generations are getting the news and how they're verifying what they learn pic.twitter.com/HFlPciA1jv— Courtland Jeffrey (@Court_Jeffrey) January 9, 2020
When we first started working with them, students were buzzing about the U.S. air strike in Iraq, killing a top Iranian general. They were drawn to the story, not by the story itself, but the reaction to it.
“I think a lot of us just saw the idea of World War III, and so many people became interested,” said Jackson Sutter, a senior.
Like many seniors, Jackson is 18. He’s legally required to register for selective service, a pre-cursor to the draft. Students were concerned the conflict could escalate. Some, like Jeffrey Teadt, were planning to enter military service after high school. He watched coverage of the strike with his father.
“Afterwards, my dad spent 30 minutes to an hour just having a serious conversation. He was asking, like, 'This is a different time. Are you sure you’re still ready to go in the Army?'” Teadt said.
But students quickly learned, the Iraq air strike was a good example of a story which required a deeper dive, using many of the tools of news literacy to separate fact from fiction.
We reminded them that even though they have to register, the U.S. hasn’t had a draft since 1975, and wasn’t likely to reinstate it. And those hashtags alluding to World War III? As tensions eased, students learned, perhaps that was a little overblown too.
It was a valuable lesson for students who often learn about a story because it’s trending or shared on social platforms: what you see on Twitter usually isn’t the whole story.
“Seeing all the trending memes on Twitter, it’s definitely how a lot of people get their info,” said Ben Adelberg, a senior.
We also learned these students have developed different habits than their parents.
Growing up in an environment with mobile devices and a constant stream of information, they’ve developed a healthy skepticism of all news sources. If a story sparks their interest, they dig into it, often seeking multiple sources of information to sort out the truth.
“It’s interesting to me how news savvy they are and how much they actually follow up what they’re seeing on their phones,” said Karen Crane, a teacher at McClintock High School. “Before, they weren’t sitting down at night, watching the news. They weren’t reading the newspapers, but now that it pops up in front of them, they’re more interested.”
Students say they’re more engaged and active in the civic process, in part, because many of them have a chance to vote for the first time in 2020.
“That’s also where adults are shocked, like kids really do care and they want to go out and make change,” said Amelie Land, a senior.
Now, students say, they’re more aware of the importance of understanding issues from different points of view, helping them make better choices as adults.