UPDATE: Jan. 9, 2023: On Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law the nation’s first statewide information literacy requirement for schools. “Our democracy remains under sustained attack through the proliferation of disinformation that is eroding the role of truth in our political and civic discourse,” Murphy said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to ensure our nation’s future leaders are equipped with the tools necessary to identify fact from fiction.”
- New Jersey is set to become the first state to require information literacy curriculum standards for K-12 students that must be developed and adopted by its state board of education. The bipartisan bill S588 passed the state legislature last week and is awaiting a signature from Gov. Phil Murphy.
- Additionally, the bill requires the state’s education department to gather a committee of educators, primarily those who are certified school library media specialists, to develop the learning standards for information literacy. Other teachers across subject areas should be included in the group as well, according to the bill.
- Advocates for the legislation are declaring the bill’s progress a major milestone for implementing media literacy in schools. “It’s huge, and it almost brought me to tears,” said Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, executive director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education. “It is so awesome, and such a big step in the right direction.”
The bill outlines that lessons on the topic that must cover, at a minimum:
- The research process and how information is created and produced.
- Critical thinking and using information resources.
- Research methods, including the difference between primary and secondary sources.
- The difference between facts, points of view, and opinions.
- Accessing peer-reviewed print and digital library resources.
- The economic, legal and social issues surrounding the use of information.
- The ethical production of information.
While an Illinois law began implementing media literacy course offerings for high school students statewide during the 2021-22 school year, New Jersey's bill would be the first to standardize these lessons for the youngest learners.
For Ciulla Lipkin, there’s hope for similar bipartisan legislation like New Jersey’s to pass in other states. When Ciulla Lipkin began working in the media literacy education field 10 years ago, she could never have imagined a statewide bill on the topic would advance this far.
“Right now, there’s a lot of really good work happening and lots of incredible teachers out there, but until we get to this level in state education systems, we’re not going to make the change that we need to see made, so this feels very, very big for these efforts,” Ciulla Lipkin said.
As more people begin to notice the dangers of media illiteracy emerging around politics and even health protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, the more the public is realizing how more education is needed to address misinformation, Ciulla Lipkin said.
“The public and legislators understand what an urgent issue this is, and we no longer feel the need to have to prove it to anyone anymore,” she said. “People get it. People have seen the real-world consequence of mis- and disinformation.”
If Murphy signs the bill and the information literacy curriculum begins to move forward in New Jersey, Olga Polites, New Jersey chapter leader of Media Literacy Now, said it’s good to know that credentialed library media specialists will be at the center of its development given they are the experts in the field. Polites also testified before the state legislature for the bill.
“Given the kind of world we’re living in right now, think of the way social media has co-opted news services,” Polites said. “What this [bill] will do is level things out a bit and perhaps, perhaps today’s students will be tomorrow’s subscribers to journalism and to sources of information that need to be paid for… and they will implicitly understand and be able to question and vet the kind of information that comes over our social media feeds.”