Voices in Education

The Need to Understand Teacher Choices About News Media
News sources matter. If there is ever a time that illustrates this, it is now. With the flip of a channel or the flick of a finger, people can access news media that represent various relationships to truth, ideologies, journalistic integrity, and utter conspiracy. Democracy requires an informed electorate, but recent studies have found most folks are not particularly good at figuring out whether they are being misinformed (McGrew et al., 2018). When misinformation combines with political and social animosity, as illustrated recently by the mob of white supremacists storming the US capitol to overturn a free and fair election, the consequences can be dire. Although we hesitate to place responsibility for mitigating these systemic issues at the feet of already overworked teachers, it is critical to acknowledge that the education system has a role to play in promoting more thoughtful consumption of news.

Media literacy education is an important component of civic education, as young people must learn to discern good information from bad to make informed political decisions. This task requires more than learning to note whether the information has been updated or to identify author bias or any other checklist approach to teaching media literacy. Learning to determine the difference between good and bad information requires that students learn both how to confront their biases and reflect on how their perspectives lead them to trust some sources over others. There is evidence to show that learning about media literacy can address at least some of these tendencies (Kahne & Bowyer, 2017) and as such, calls for addressing news media literacy in K-12 education are clearly warranted (Levin, 2016).

But there is an obvious flaw with the notion that lack of news savvy in society can be corrected if we just teach students how to determine good information from bad. For one thing, the perceptions and understandings of the people who address these topics in schools must also be considered. Our research on teacher perceptions of news media has indicated that, like the population in general, teachers tend to trust news that reinforces what they already believe (Clark, Schmeichel, & Garret, 2020) and that they are more likely to use news in the classroom that they perceive to be more aligned with their ideological beliefs (Clark, Schmeichel, & Garrett, 2021). In other words, teachers are people, too: they have biases and are likely not much better at discerning truth from fiction in their news than anybody else. Acknowledging the fallibility of teachers’ judgment of the quality of news sources is not meant to fault educators, whose own media literacy education provided insufficient preparation for the rapidly evolving challenges of today’s informational landscape. Rather, we draw attention to this in order to assert that teachers need more support in understanding the news as well as how their ideology shapes their thinking about news media as they make decisions about including the news in their classrooms.

Our research indicates that there is much work done to help teachers improve the news literacy skills they will need to develop those same skills in students. We think a good first step is for teacher education programs and professional development to ask teachers to reflect on how they choose the news sources they give to students. This would require explicit engagement with ideology, as teachers and students alike should be invited to talk about the tendencies to trust and dismiss information in light of how it connects or disconnects with existing beliefs. Additionally, teachers must be introduced to the journalistic process and learn to be able to spot the differences between quality reporting and disinformation. Working toward effectively educating students in news media literacy begins by documenting, understanding, and improving the choices teachers are making about news media in their classrooms. The current stakes are incredibly high, and classroom practices that promote the exploration of the nexus between news media, ideologies, beliefs, and facts may be an entry point to begin addressing part of our complicated problems.


Clark, C. H., Schmeichel, M., & Garrett, H. J. (2020). Social studies teacher perceptions of news source credibility. Educational Researcher, 49(4), 262–72. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X20909823

Clark, C. H., Schmeichel, M., & Garrett, H. J. (2021). How social studies teachers choose news resources for current events instruction. Harvard Educational Review, 91(1), 5–37. https://doi.org/10.17763/1943-5045-91.1.5

Kahne, J., & Bowyer, B. (2017). Educating for democracy in a partisan age: Confronting the challenges of motivated reasoning and misinformation. American Educational Research Journal, 54(1), 3–34. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831216679817

Levin, K. M. (2016, December 6). The remedy for the spread of fake news? History teachers. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/remedy-spread-fake-news-history-teachers-180961310/

McGrew, S., Breakstone, J., Ortega, T., Smith, M., & Wineburg, S. (2018). Can students evaluate online sources? Learning from assessments of civic online reasoning. Theory and Research in Social Education, 46(2), 165–93. https://doi.org/10.1080/00933104.2017.1416320

About the Author: Christopher H. Clark is an assistant professor of secondary education at the University of North Dakota. He researches how students and teachers think about politics, media, and civic life.

Mardi Schmeichel is an Associate Professor of Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She researches news media literacy in social studies education, social media practices, and neoliberalism.  

H. James (Jim) Garrett is an associate professor of socials studies education at the University of Georgia.  His research centers the emotional contours of teaching and learning about difficult socio-political issues.

Christopher H. Clark, Mardi Schmeichel, and H. James (Jim) Garrett are the authors of “How Social Studies Teachers Choose News Resources for Current Events Instruction” in the Spring 2021 issue of Harvard Educational Review.