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Teachers Say They Need to ‘Deprogram’ Kids of QAnons & Anti-Vaxxers

Teachers across the country are facing a tough and evolving challenge as the new school year begins and students return to the classroom following a roughly 18-month hiatus from normal in-person learning. Since the last time full classrooms congregated, a whole industry of misinformation has exploded online, spreading conspiracy theories on everything from the alleged steal of the presidential election, which Joe Biden won, to the prevalence of microchips in Covid-19 vaccines.

It’s bad enough that kids are exposed to dangerous untruths across their favorite social media apps like Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok. An equally large problem is that, while stuck at home during the pandemic, many students had their days of virtual schooling interrupted by screaming parents, who themselves had fallen deep into the internet’s darkest rabbit holes.

HAUPPAUGE, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 4: QAnon supporters attend a Trump rally hosted by Long Island and New York City police unions in support of the police on October 4, 2020 in Suffolk County, New York. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Some 15 percent of Americans believe QAnon conspiracy theories, according to a May report from non-profit groups Public Religion Research Institute and Interfaith Youth Core. QAnon believers were largely responsible for spreading “stop the steal” content on social media, backing the lie that former president Donald Trump won the election. Meanwhile, 22% of Americans self-identify as anti-vaxxers, according to an academic study published in May, even as scientists and public health officials agree on the extreme efficacy and importance of Covid-19 vaccines.

For kids who have yet to fully develop critical thinking skills, basic truths are being distorted by the combination of misinformation on social media and a growing population of duped and radicalized parents. The News Literacy Project (NLP), a non-profit in Washington, D.C., last year developed Checkology, an online tool for educators to help students spot and dispel misinformation. Checkology teaches students about the various types of misinformation they may encounter, the role the press plays in a democracy, understanding bias in the news, and recognizing how people fall into conspiracies. Since its launch in May 2016, Checkology has registered more than 1.3 million students and nearly 36,300 teachers. Through interactive lessons, the program is designed to give kids the tools to figure out what’s a hoax and what’s a fact supported by evidence. NLP also puts together a weekly newsletter, The Sift, which is intended to help educators teach students news literacy and to understand why a hoax or conspiracy theory that’s spreading is inaccurate.

 



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