Development and Discussion 2019 4: News in Schools

20 February 2019 Share

News in Schools: Context and Impact On Monday January 28th, Plymouth City Council debated the prospect of martial law being imposed on the streets of Plymouth and the rest of the UK, in the advent of a 'no-deal' Brexit.

This month's Development and Discussion blog is written by Richard Addis, the Editor of 'The Day', and he's discussing the importance of news in schools, in the current wider context. 

News in Schools: Context and Impact

On Monday January 28th, Plymouth City Council debated the prospect of martial law being imposed on the streets of Plymouth and the rest of the UK, in the advent of a 'no-deal' Brexit. Minutes were taken. Points were recorded. Different views were expressed. The next day Edward Oldfield of The Plymouth News -- a vastly experienced journalist who has worked in regional news for decades -- reported the council discussion under the accurate headline “Concern over threat of Brexit 'martial law' on Plymouth's streets”. The response on social media was swift and ruthless: 'Fake news', 'scaremongering', 'lies'. In Plymouth, where 60% voted leave, there were clearly many who did not want this story to be published.

On Wednesday January 30th, the editor of The Plymouth News, Max Channon, wrote a wide-ranging editorial about the rising tide of vitriol and abuse against his title. It came, he said, from Brexiteers, climate change deniers and other campaign groups who objected to the paper publishing the truth.

What is so disturbing about this story?

Here is an English sea port, steeped in the stories of Sir Francis Drake, the Spanish Armada, the Pilgrim Fathers, Captain Cook, Charles Darwin and Scott of the Antarctic where the most basic machinery of British citizenship -- open government, a free press -- is under attack.

The threat of demagoguery, denial, propaganda and fake news that we have heard so much about across the Atlantic is in our midst, not only in London and Westminster but in Devon.

As librarians, teachers and educationalists, how should we respond?

First I believe we have to recognise that regulation is not the only answer or even the best. Google, Facebook (and all the social media brands that they own) are rightly facing a reckoning from governments around the world. They are belatedly taking responsibility as publishers for the worst of the warped content that they spread,

but to allow government to become a censor is tyranny in waiting. Rather we must tackle the problem from the other end by educating the readers of tomorrow. To think critically for yourself from an early age is the only surefire antibiotic that resists fake news and defends freedom.

“When students realise they have a voice and are empowered to use it, great things can happen” says Emily Mitchell, Head of Citizenship & PSHE at Altrincham Grammar School for Girls. How right she is.

Emily highlights extracurricular activities such Model United Nations, visits to her local Manchester Crown Courts, the People’s History Museum and the school’s annual visit to the Houses of Parliament Educational Centre.

All brilliant. But in addition there is a simple and effective way in which we can weave critical literacy and citizenship teaching into our work without (and this is the magic part) needing to change the curriculum at all. Using news in schools during form time and during the regular teaching of key subjects does this.

Using news in teaching is a powerful and effective way to engage a whole class in a topic: the row over whether Churchill should be described as a villain or a hero; the ethical debate over the world’s first designer babies; the painful discussion about whether the ISIS bride Shamima Begum should be allowed to bring her baby back to Britain.

These are stories that lead directly into history, science, politics and citizenship and open up really good questions that will have even the most opinionated students pausing to think and to listen. ‘The Day’ are working on detailed research on outcomes but over nearly a decade we have seen signs that the “real-world curriculum” as we call it, helps to deliver a range of increasingly important effects.

All of them are around creating a new generation of students that are deeply engaged in their own learning and fully prepared for all that the future has to offer.

The impact news can have:

  1. 1) We see signs that news discussion helps build basic skills that have often been the preserve of privilege. Skills such as critical reading, compelling speaking and data-literate thinking.

  2. 2) News helps build powerful knowledge about the world, its history, sciences, biology and cultural currency. Powerful knowledge leads to engaged participants which is key to creating a lively democracy.

  3. 3) Debate and discussion about difficult issues helps develop sense-makers and creative thinkers who can see problems from different perspectives and deal with conflicting knowledge.

  4. 4) It helps nurture generous collaborators and children who will become inquisitive, tolerant world citizens respecting diverse points of view as well as talent-seekers finding the expertise of others.

  5. 5) A real-world curriculum helps to build learners for life. That is to say self-driven, self-directed inventors of their own learning paths, careers, and lives. People who think for themselves.

Can a daily news debate in class be like an apple a day for the mind? Yes. And encouraging discussion and engagement of these topics, can make each of us a better teacher, form tutor or librarian.