A bill aimed at teaching children how to critically consider today’s constant stream of information and to be safe online has been presented to a House committee.
St. Louis Republican representative Jim Murphy has proposed House Bill 1585, the “Show-Me Digital Health Act.” It would instruct the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to create a curriculum on the “responsible use of social media.”
Murphy said children are exposed to information from numerous sources and mediums, and often legislators discuss how to regulate that information.
“I don’t care how much you try to regulate it it’s not going away and it’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse, and if we’re not teaching our children how to process the information that they see – how to question it, how to verify it, how to not internalize it, we’re just going to get worse and worse and worse,” said Murphy. “This is not about what the content of media is. It’s about how to process media.”
The Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education heard from Julie Smith, an instructor at Webster University in St. Louis who has authored books and offered numerous presentations on media literacy and news analysis. She said “digital citizenship” is the term that’s been used for teaching children how to behave online. She said Murphy’s bill would expand on the basics of “digital citizenship,” which tends to focus on being “nice” online.
“Kids have been lectured since day one how to behave online. They know. Now we need to help them process this digital world that they live in,” said Smith. “Digital citizenship already exists in Missouri schools but we need to help that go deeper. We have to go beyond the ‘be nice online’ and help students examine not only how they use the media but how the media uses them. This 21st century survival skill, these additional digital citizenship skills will not only increase and enhance their digital health but could potentially help preserve our republic.”
She said a new curriculum would encourage children to read the terms of service for the websites and apps that they use and educate them about laws governing internet use; how websites and apps are designed to keep them online and make money off of them; how to spot and deal with fake accounts; and how to cope with anxieties and depression related to an online presence.
The committee’s top Democrat, Paula Brown of Hazelwood, is a retired teacher with 31 years of experience. She expressed concerns about adding to the already extensive curriculum from which teachers are expected to work.
Smith said the school districts with which she has worked have asked how to weave this education into existing curriculum, “So that if you’re a math teacher this is how you can do it, if you’re a science teacher this is how you can do it, so that it’s not an additional class and it doesn’t replace anything. It merely enhances what already exists.”
Brown said she would talk further with Smith about that, and would do further research into her concern about what additional cost the bill might create for individual school districts.
University of Missouri freshman William Wehmer said he believes as someone who just finished his K-12 education Murphy’s proposal is “much needed.”
“As I made my way through my education I was faced with the abrupt uprising of social media and was given no tools as to how to handle myself online, what a digital footprint was, and most importantly how to respect others with differing opinions,” said Wehmer.
The bill’s supporters include the Missouri School Boards Association and the Missouri Broadcasters Association. Mark Gordon with the Broadcasters Association said its member radio and television stations think the bill would support their work on social media.
“We’re licensed to serve and as a result of that we produce trusted information and the last thing we want is for people to be confused on a side-by-side issue, where they’re looking at something and they see postings from our members versus those from untrusted sources.”
The committee has not voted on HB 1585.