US kids suss out the truth about fake news

Ms Kim Ash teaching the Newseum's Fighting Fake News class. Teachers in the United States are increasingly concerned that their students will grow up not believing anything they read, or believing the difference between what is real and what is fake
Ms Kim Ash teaching the Newseum's Fighting Fake News class. Teachers in the United States are increasingly concerned that their students will grow up not believing anything they read, or believing the difference between what is real and what is fake is a matter of choice.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON • Later this year, 16-year-old Chris will be taking IB maths, IB business, IB literature and IB physics at Annandale High School in Northern Virginia. "IB" means the classes are part of the rigorous International Baccalaureate programme, which means Chris is, as he put it, "super smart".

So committed to being smart is he that he chose to spend one of his final days of summer at an IB prep programme he heard would look good on his college applications.

And that is how he ended up in the classroom where he - and all his super-smart classmates - discovered a subject that they were not so very smart about.

"What," asked their instructor for the day, "is fake news?"

Hands shot up.

Ms Kim Ash, an educator at the Newseum, assessed the room full of juniors and seniors.

Of course they had heard of fake news. US President Donald Trump has tweeted the phrase more than 100 times since taking office. It punctuates jokes, appears on T-shirts and always seems to be the subject that even international visitors to the journalism and First Amendment museum want to ask her about.

These days, people shout "fake news!" just because it is fun to say.

The young people sitting before Ms Ash had spent some of their most formative years hearing that the news is fake. For the teachers responsible for educating them, this is a new problem.

While they once feared teenagers would fall for everything they read online, now teachers are increasingly concerned that their students will grow up not believing anything they read - or worse, believing the difference between what is real and what is fake is a matter of choice.

The Newseum developed a class called Fighting Fake News early this year. By the time it launched in May - typically one of the slowest months for school field trips - it was almost immediately booked solid through June.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2017, with the headline 'US kids suss out the truth about fake news'. Print Edition | Subscribe