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Illinois civics law reinforces
value of journalism education

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sprclogoby Stan Zoller, MJE
The successful passage and subsequent signing by Illinois governor Bruce Rauner of legislation that mandates a one-semester civic education course for high school students provides more than ‘just another’ social science course.

It re-enforces the importance of journalism education.

Throughout the process, The Illinois Task Force on Civic Education cited the need for citizens to be civic literate. One way to achieve that? News literacy.

The task force noted that:

“Responsible citizens include individuals who are informed and thoughtful. They have a grasp and an appreciation of history and the fundamental processes of American democracy; have and understand the importance of news literacy; have an understanding and awareness of issues impacting their communities; have a capacity to think critically; and have a willingness to enter into dialogue with others about different points of view and to respect diverse perspectives.”

Quite simply, the skill that is paramount is the ability to critically think the contents of news reports no matter how they are delivered.

The impact on journalism educators is simple: informed and engaged news consumers need to receive news reports that are independent, free of bias and provide information that is not only accurate, but also verifiable and transparent. The task force noted that a civics education course needs to offer students more than content; its needs to include skills, especially those related to news literacy.

Quite simply, the skill that is paramount is the ability to critically think the contents of news reports no matter how they are delivered.

Does this validate the need for a journalism course? Not solely, but it is a message that administrators need to hear. Ethically produced journalism that embellishes the basic fundamentals of news literacy has a new goal – at least in Illinois – to provide news consumers, as Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach note in “The Elements of Journalism” information that people need to live their lives and to also understand the world. They also write that it needs to be “meaningful, relevant and engaging.”

To achieve this, the need for student reporting to be ethical and adhere to media laws is at a new high. That’s because students, like other news consumers, are no longer just looking to be entertained, but informed so they can become not only active at school, but also in the civic process as well.

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