As I write this, it’s November 9, the morning after election night. I, like many Americans, am in shock over the results. Stunned and saddened that Donald J. Trump is President-elect of the United States, that racism and bigotry and blatant misogyny and xenophobia and many more hate-filled ideologies won the day. I normally write here about children’s literature and submit my words to an editor at Kirkus. (Ahem, now is when I should note the all-important disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Kirkus Reviews.) But I find myself unable today to fully and accurately communicate anything other than a kind of monosyllabic despair over the state of our country. Or at least it feels that way, even if I’m managing to string some words together here. As a woman and the mother of daughters, today is especially hard (though I can’t even fathom how much harder today must be for minorities). So, here I am, stuttering and stumbling about.
I think there’s a lot going on here that would bring about such election results, and I firmly believe that sexism and racism are huge factors. But that’s a conversation for another day. Another thing I’m moderately angry about—and have been all during this long election season—is the way most of the media has handled this election. This is multi-faceted, too, but the real kicker has been all the false equivalence. If this is a new phrase to you, it is—as defined in The Purposeful Argument: A Practical Guide, Brief Edition—a logical fallacy in which two opposing arguments appear to be logically equivalent when, in fact, they are not.
In terms of this election, this translates to, as a friend of mine puts it, emails vs. sexual assault, racism, walls, and the end of democracy as we know it (assuming Trump follows through on all his dangerous promises).
The other phenomenon in modern media and elections is the very real presence of fake news – that is, sites propagating information, often sensational, that is unabashedly untrue right alongside, in your Facebook or Twitter feed, articles from, say, The New York Times. I think we have underestimated the ability of many Americans to embrace the facts and to identify deeply biased, partisan news when they see it. As we saw in the presidential debates, how is someone supposed to argue with lies? When you’re facing someone who bends the truth to his will, nothing you say matters at all. It’s profoundly infuriating and, in the truest sense of the word, frustrating.
This is what I’ve got for you today and all I have in me to say: If you are a school librarian or teacher who works regularly with children in K to 12 schools, please, for the love of all that is dear in this world, brush up on your information literacy curricula and hammer this home to today’s youth. The last time I was a school librarian was over ten years ago—instead, I’ve been writing about children’s lit for the past decade or so—and if I were to return to that profession today (though I continually keep up with it as best I can, and I will always be a school librarian at heart), I’d have all-new lesson plans to conceive. It is a wildly different and more complicated media landscape now, compared to the last time I talked to students about using the Web. But I would be very committed to it. We must be.
Let’s say you’re reading this and you’re not a school librarian. Let me clarify a bit: It is our job, as school library media specialists, to help students, according to the American Library Association, "recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information." An information literate individual is able to do many things, and one of those things is “evaluate information and its sources critically.” There’s also the ability to “understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally.”
Our students need to know if the source of the information they find (much of it online) is accurate and reliable – and truthful. In today’s fragmented and phenomenally busy media landscape, they need guidance. They must be actively taught information literacy. I get it: Maybe you became a school librarian because, like me, you love to read children’s books and get children fired up about reading in the hopes of making them life-long readers. Books books books: You just want to talk about books. But this ability to scrutinize the media landscape? It is vital, and it falls upon us to teach it.
Our very democracy depends upon it.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.