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In an era fraught with claims of "fake news," there’s no better time to ensure that the next generation knows how to discern what is accurate and credible and what isn’t, say backers of a bill making its way through the Colorado House of Representatives.

Democratic state Rep. Lisa Cutter of Evergreen, a public relations and media consultant, is the sponsor of House Bill 1110. The bill is a first step toward designing a media-literacy curriculum for the state’s public K-12 students, say its supporters.

Under the bill, the state Department of Education would take charge of a media literacy committee. As introduced, the commissioner of education would appoint the members of a nine-member panel, which would include a teacher, an expert in media literacy, a librarian, a parent representative, a school administrator and a student.

That committee would then prepare a report, due no later than Jan. 1, 2020, that would make recommendations for setting up media literacy education in elementary and secondary education.

Students today face the largest, most complex information landscape in history, Cutter told the House Education Committee earlier this week. “We must prepare them to deal with this.”

Understanding how to discern credible information is critical, she added. Students need to be able to tell if pictures, memes and video are real, and they need help recognizing the hallmarks of legitimate news, she explained.

Those hallmarks include attribution, standards and ethics, full disclosure that this is opinion versus fact, objective sources and trustworthy research.

“I’ve fallen prey to manipulated information,” as have most people, Cutter added.

The hardest part of teaching social studies, said Democratic Rep. Bri Buentello of Pueblo, is in teaching kids how to evaluate sources. That’s hard even for teachers, she indicated.

Republicans, however, said they weren’t happy with adding one more thing to education curriculum when they say there aren’t enough efforts to help students with reading, writing or learning science.

Republican Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, a former social studies teacher and district superintendent, asked, “Where do we start? Students are using the internet who can’t read.”

Cutter said she was trying to avoid burdening educators, but added that “we cannot ignore the fact that the media landscape is changing.” She said media literacy could be incorporated into civics, reading or writing curriculum. 

Kids get information from a variety of sources and are on the internet all the time, she said. “We’re equipping them to be better learners.”

Republicans’ biggest angst was over who would be appointed to the committee, complaining that the report and curriculum would be skewed by appointing teachers and other personnel who come from unions.

Republican Reps. Colin Larson of Littleton and Mark Baisley of Roxborough Park both voted against the bill Thursday, based on those concerns.

“The fox [would be] in charge of the henhouse,” Baisley said. “To bring the folks who produce what we should be skeptical about to advise how it should be taught, [makes it] ripe for bias and defeats the purpose."

Larson said it appeared to him that the intent is to “stack” the committee with union members. "Whatever result that comes out will be tainted” without representation from teachers or librarians who aren’t union members, he said.

The committee amended the bill to change some of the appointment structure, including language that allows the governor to name two journalists to the panel, one from print media and another from broadcasting.

As amended, the panel would have 12 members, including a teacher, school administrator and student from rural school districts.

Speaking in support, Jim Clarke, regional director of The Associated Press news cooperative (of which Colorado Politics is a member), told the committee that teaching media literacy “is vital to the health of the republic. Spin wasn’t invented by [the late Republican strategist] Lee Atwater in 1982.”

Teaching young people to discern between opinion and fact is vital to having well informed and knowledgeable citizens," Clarke said. “It’s also a subset of critical thinking -- to discern between various sources of information.”

Reporter Jace Larson of Denver television station KMGH-Denver7, speaking on behalf of the Colorado Broadcasters Association, told the committee he’s working on a piece that looks at how easy it is to make it look like someone said something that they really didn’t say.

Kids need to know how to figure out the real quotes from the fake ones, he said. “It’s the realistic nature, that it appears that someone right in front of you is saying something they’ve never said.”

Teacher Mark Newton told the committee that he recently saw a video of former President Barack Obama in which it appeared that Obama was giving a speech but the words were coming from comedian Jordan Peele. “If we don’t show kids that’s an option, then what they see in a video will appear as if it’s 100 percent accurate” because it was on a cellphone or Facebook or other outlet.

“This concern about deep fakes and video isn’t theoretical. It’s real and we’re freaked out about it. Our hair is on fire,” Clarke said.

The problem is worldwide, he said, and “every time we see a video we ask about it.”

“Everything you see must be verified,” added Newton. “And there are techniques that kids can learn about, cues in the video that this is made up. Those are the techniques media literacy would allow us to address.”

House Bill 1110 passed on a party-line 8-5 vote and was sent to the House Appropriations Committee for further action.

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