Students in a west Philadelphia school district are getting lessons in how to stop what their instructors are calling “fake news.”
The “Mighty Writers West” organization, a non-profit that teaches children creative writing as an after-school program, is offering a class for kids called “Fake News Finders,” which they say will help kids separate “fact from fiction.”
Kids become “Fake News Detectives,” the instructors say, learning to find sources of information that are useful for their research and writing projects (the kids are ages 10-14, middle schoolers).
According to the program, they’re learning to separate information into a series of groups—”real news, propaganda, entertainment, advertising and publicity”—and what happens when writers confuse the groups.
The program’s instructors say that they are “decidedly non-political,” though the curriculum does “focus on current events.” The examples they gave local media, however, seem a bit more political than they’re willing to admit.
The teachers pointed to Ferguson, Missouri, as a place that inspired a wave of “fake news,” contending that because one Twitter account posted pictures of looting and rioting there in the days after Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore that weren’t authentic, that meant the incidents were probably fake news.
A cursory glance at “reputable” media from the days after Freddie Gray’s death indicates an uptick in violence at that exact time, with several shootings and arrests. It’s not clear whether the instructors used this to point out the difference between the Wall Street Journal and “people of Twitter.”
The students themselves also seem to demonstrate a strange tendency when it comes to fake news: they invoke Donald Trump. “If the president is spreading fake news, he might start a war,” said one student. “That would be very bad, because when he lies, we die.”
Perhaps it might be a good idea for parents to check in on their students’ extra-curricular activities—and whether they’ll need therapy, not just classes in avoiding certain news organizations.