Informed Citizenship: Analyzing Bias in Current Events

The following is a guest post from Basehor-Linwood Middle School teacher Joe Zlatnik.  Joe teaches 8th grade social studies at BLMS.

news1The concept of citizenship can be found throughout various social studies curricula. KSDE social studies standards are designed to “prepare students to be informed, thoughtful, engaged citizens…” and the National Council for the Social Studies C3 curriculum seeks to offer opportunities “for students to develop as thoughtful, engaged citizens.”

However, the steps to becoming a citizen are not clearly outlined. It is as if you become a citizen as a byproduct of going through these prescribed curriculums. I argue that one will not simply become an engaged citizen by completing a curriculum, but that students also need to have a way to decipher the ever-changing world we live in.

Being an engaged citizen today is, perhaps, more difficult now than it has ever been. The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite has given way to Fox News and MSNBC. We now live in a world with a 24-hour news cycle, multiple cable news channels, and a bias that is inherent in almost all the information that we receive.

As reporting has been replaced by editorializing, we find ourselves struggling to formulate our own opinions due to being overwhelmed by talking heads from across the political spectrum telling us what we should think. Developing a sense of citizenship amongst students, while daunting, is now more important than ever.

Today, schools seek to foster citizenship in students through traditional social studies curriculum.  One vital aspect that is missing is an understanding of the world we live in today. This is problematic because I believe that people cannot be effective citizens if they do not understand the world in which they live.

This puts social studies teachers in a difficult position because we are already stretched thin in terms of the time we have in class, as we are focusing on content and developing historical thinking skills in our students. However, we must incorporate current events into our classes and begin helping students to make sense of the information they are getting.

The question is . . . how can we best do this in a way that doesn’t monopolize our time?

Helping students to better understand their world is near and dear to my heart. In my classes, I always try to make connections between our course content and what is happening in current times to make the information more relevant to students lives and also to have demonstrate that what happened in the past really does have an effect on the world we live in today.  This also means we need to have honest conversations about media bias, and help give our students the tools to recognize bias in their everyday lives.

The following document analysis sheet is something that I use in my class regularly to help kids comprehend news stories:

Current Event Source Analysis

CE Analysis Sheet

I use this sheet regularly to guide my students through bi-weekly current event articles.  We then discuss the content, focusing especially on potential bias in the source material.  Over time it is great to see the kids bring stories to me, and overhearing them discuss potential bias in websites used during research.  It’s  a skills-based approach that not only produces capable social studies students but capable citizens!

1 thought on “Informed Citizenship: Analyzing Bias in Current Events

  1. Hi Joe and Scott!

    Thank you for discussing this important topic. I’m glad I came across your blog today. This has been an important and engaging topic for my colleagues and I as post-secondary teacher education students. The Internet and mobile devices really have changed the game, for better or worse. Instead of dealing with one or two sources, students of this world have to choose from dozens of competing views being displayed on social media feeds, let alone trying to decide what website to trust for “real” news.

    It’s something that I believe should be discussed, as part of media and computer literacy, but in the real world not every school may have such a deliberate focus. That puts a lot of pressure on our discipline in particular to prepare students to be engaged critical citizens in a participatory democracy.

    I think 8th grade is an interesting and exciting age to get students engaged in a more critical evaluation of sources. What have been some of the exciting surprises and challenges you’ve encountered in the process?



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