OPINION: The new N.J. “information literacy” law isn’t woke | Bergen

As a proud dad of two GenZers growing up in today’s crazy online world, my parental antenna automatically goes up whenever anyone talks about indoctrinating kids.

It’s an instinct every parent understands, but determining the authenticity of information is arguably the most important factor. Adults, let alone teenagers, find that challenging.

It’s a shame that some people want to give an impression there is some ideological slant to teaching students media literacy. My brief experience in public service has taught me that you should be most skeptical of politicians because many of them frequently lie.

Then again, there’s TikTok, Reddit, and YouTube. That’s the problem.

The internet is full of myths that are gaining popularity by the day, such as the moon is not real, the moon landing was staged, the earth is hollow and the world is flat. A conspiracy theory spawned on Reddit said that Mattress Firm was a front for a large-scale money laundering enterprise. And too often hoaxes become credible – as Orson Welles famously demonstrated when he terrified the nation with his “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast in 1938.

It is the kind of nonsense your kids tell you about out of nowhere and you suddenly realize how much they’re being exposed. Toddlers transition from a black-and-white environment where they have complete faith in their parents to a world that is suddenly filled with colorful information and misinformation as they grow into adolescents. It’s a fully modern dilemma that many people over a certain age find difficult to grasp.

When public schools hand Chromebooks for students to learn on, why wouldn’t we want to make sure they are getting information from reliable sources? Don’t chemistry teachers explain safety precautions before using Bunsen burners?

Children are easy prey for false information. Kids often start to believe in conspiracy theories around the age of 14.

Stanford researchers investigated how well students could evaluate the accuracy of digital content in 2019. They discovered that 80% of middle school students couldn’t tell the difference between news articles and advertisements labeled as sponsored content. When college students saw a tweet touting a poll favoring gun control, more than two thirds overlooked the possibility that the leftist anti-gun groups behind the poll may have manipulated the results.

Those same Stanford researchers found that high school students who received only six hours of digital literacy lessons were twice as likely to spot a questionable website as they were before the instruction took place.

Children aren’t the only ones who are susceptible. A Pew Research Center survey in July found half of U.S. adults get news from a social media platform, where opinion is cloaked as fact.

It’s not a matter of right or left. It’s an issue of fact versus fiction. There are hundreds of fake websites making visitors believe they are major news outlets like Fox News, ABC News or MSNBC.

The New Jersey Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to develop statewide guidelines for lessons on information literacy across digital, visual, and technological media. It would teach critical thinking, effective research, and how to evaluate information. That’s it.

The lead sponsor, Republican Sen. Mike Testa, explained the need. “This law isn’t about teaching kids that any specific idea is true or false,” he said in a statement. “Rather, it’s about helping them learn how to research, evaluate, and understand the information they are presented for themselves.”

That the vote was “woke” is fake news, which is exactly what this bill will teach kids to know when they see it. Maybe detractors hope you don’t evaluate their own arguments. Perhaps they haven’t read the law because the true purpose is to broaden rather than limit where you get your news. Conservatives embrace free speech, its “woke” liberals that want to limit it and drown out the truth. That’s the first step toward a well-rounded perspective and educated viewpoint.

When I went to West Point, knowing the difference between intercepting real information and misdirection was critical to making sound, informed decisions. If that wasn’t taught, we would be worse off. That’s the approach we need to take with our children.

Brian Bergen
About Brian Bergen 7 Articles
BRIAN BERGEN is a former Army Officer and Apache Helicopter Pilot and a Republican Assemblyman representing New Jersey's 25th Legislative District.