A California state senator, Hannah-Beth Jackson, a prominent Progressive, has proposed yet another bill in the California Senate, SB 203, to protect our children from fake news. Jackson, a prolific legislator, introduced the bill because she was “concerned about the recent proliferation of fake news during the Presidential election …” She said,
This legislation is about ensuring we have an informed citizenry. The role of the media and technology is only growing. The skills we teach kids today about critical thinking, the role of media in their lives and how best to interact with social media, fake news and technology will help keep them safe and serve them into adulthood.
Fortunately, her bill, along with a more draconian bill (AB 1104) making it a crime to publish “false or deceptive statements on the Internet about a political candidate or ballot measure”, have been sidelined because of objections from pesky advocates of free speech (like the Electronic Frontier Foundation). Political speech is speech and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees us the right to speak freely no matter how wrong we may be. Politicians are fair game and the courts have given us much leeway to criticize them.
Also, dirty tricks in political campaigns are nothing new. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
American political speech dating back as far as the John Adams-Thomas Jefferson rivalry has involved unfair smears, half and stretched truths, and even outright lies. During the 2016 campaign alone, PolitiFact ranked 202 statements made by President Donald Trump as mostly false or false statements and 63 “Pants on Fire” statements. Hillary Clinton made 69 statements ranked mostly false or false and 7 as “Pants on Fire.”
Jackson’s press release about the bill gives away her true intent since she admits it is a reaction to the 2016 presidential political campaign. Jackson’s candidate lost. Hillary herself blames fake news for it. Yes, there was abundant fake news on both sides, but there was more from the Right than the Left, maligning Hillary Clinton more than Trump, something that obviously bothered Senator Jackson.
Did it really matter? Did it swing the elections? A study of election fake news published by two Stanford and NYU econ professors concluded it is unlikely that fake news swung the election in favor of Trump. Senator Jackson and her Progressive cohorts should rest more easily: voters may not be as dumb as they think they are.
We don’t need this bill to protect our kids. They will grow up to be intelligent or ignorant adults depending on the quality of their education. “Media literacy” isn’t going to change that. If you want to help them, just tell them about Snopes, Politifact, and Urban Myth and similar sites that are pretty good at separating fake from fact.
Forgive me for being skeptical about Senator Jackson’s fake news bill. It carries with it the stink of indoctrination. In all likelihood, her “media literacy” bill will be used to guide kids to political truths as our educators see it. One could almost say that SB 203 is “fake” as being, in my opinion, a stalking horse for Jackson’s Progressive political agenda. It’s just another way for our state school system to churn out proto-liberals.
When it comes down to the essence of what Jackson’s bill is getting at, it is to teach kids to think. The sad thing about the Jackson bill is its tacit admission that our schools are not doing a very good job of that. If SAT scores are a measure of education success, then we have failed our children. Recent SAT scores have been declining: reading scores are the worst since 1972; math scores are the worst since 1999.
If Senator Jackson and her claque want to help kids, the best thing they could do is teach them critical thinking. You know, the science of logic which is a pretty good tool for uncovering falsity. I’m not talking about “media literacy”. I am talking about a classical education of using reason armed with the tools of logic to discern the truth or falsity of a statement. I am talking about the Scholastic discipline of the Trivium articulated so beautifully in Dorothy Sayers’ 1947 Oxford lecture, The Lost Tool of Learning. She frames the problem quite accurately:
For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. …
And today a great number—perhaps the majority—of the men and women who handle our affairs, write our books and our newspapers, carry out our research, present our plays and our films, speak from our platforms and pulpits–yes, and who educate our young people—have never, even in a lingering traditional memory, undergone the Scholastic discipline. …
There is a science of thinking critically. It is not examining the media for lies or falsehoods, rather it arms its student with the classical tools of logic and reasoning. Critical Thinking 101 should be the very first course a student takes, and thus be armed for life.
Senator Jackson would benefit greatly from this course and perhaps she would then learn to stop pushing out useless laws.