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Strong curriculum helps battle disinformation


August 31, 2021 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

For many of us, the pandemic has allowed for some new and sometimes difficult realizations about people in our social circles.

Many of the issues we’ve faced have been complex and uncertain, and as a result many of the conversations have been divisive. Discovering that a cousin, an in-law or a long-time friend holds concerning viewpoints can be quite troubling. It is particularly troubling when you can clearly see that their problematic opinions are being informed by bad information and noncredible sources.

Much has been said about how the pandemic of COVID-19 is accompanied by a pandemic of disinformation.

I was recently sent a link to a website that purported to be from an alliance of independent doctors, scientists and other health-care experts. Yet there was no About Us page, and not a single one of these so-called experts had put their name to the information on it.

There were a ton of red flags that left me questioning the credibility of the information on that site. Yet it was a well-designed and professional-looking site. It was clear to me that this site was intended to mislead and misinform, and it was doing a very good job of that. 

Not unlike what I learned in my childhood about the North American house hippo.

The people who are reading, believing and passing along this disinformation are being duped. It is easy to be upset and angry at our loved ones who share these outrageous views, but I’ve come to realize that they are actually victims.

This realization makes me think about our curriculum.

The Internet can be a wealth of information—but also a lode of disinformation. One of the most important things we can do as educators is to arm young people with the skills and competencies they need in order to critically process, analyze and evaluate the information they read and see.

A curriculum that focuses too much on memorizing long lists of disparate, decontextualized facts and knowledge is not what our students need.

To be clear, I am not arguing that we should stop teaching particular key concepts and foundational pieces of knowledge. Rather, we must enhance the development of those essential learnings by adding in higher-order competencies that empower students to think critically about all the information they receive. Application, analysis and synthesis are much more important and can only be realized when students have time to work with content instead of a Trivial Pursuit approach in which one bit of content is quickly memorized before moving on to the next.

Analysis of the draft K–6 curriculum suggests that this is lacking.

On the Alberta Curriculum Analysis website (, Barbara Brown and Michele Jacobsen, from the University of Calgary, argue that “specific reference to digital literacies and digital competencies must be included in the literacy progressions in a modern curriculum, especially if Alberta children are to learn how to navigate, evaluate and create knowledge in this post-truth era in which disinformation, appeals to emotion and fake news proliferates.”

They point out numerous problems with the draft curriculum related to insufficient digital literacies. Their conclusion: “This draft curriculum takes us back decades in failing to adequately consider learning technologies, digital literacy and digital competencies for Alberta children.”

The issue of disinformation on the Internet does not start or end with COVID-19. But the trend of producing and believing bad information has been accelerated. Those who are willing to misuse and abuse others through disinformation have learned a lot about how easy and powerful it can be. The tactic will now infect other areas of society: community, economic and political spheres.

So, when it comes to digital literacy and critical thinking, we must make sure that we get it right and that we get it right now. ❚ 

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