By Sam Piha
Terry Peterson has been an important figure in education and afterschool learning since before his service to the Clinton administration. See his full bio below.
Q: Much has been written about the need to prepare young people for the 21st Century, and there has been an emphasis on critical thinking skills. What do we really mean when we talk about critical thinking skills?
A: Because we are in such a rapidly changing world, knowing the basics is important but not sufficient to becoming an informed citizen and productive member of the American workforce. As a result, there is a growing interest in afterschool and summer programs that can help students solve problems in creative and innovative ways. Students need to be able to compare and contrast solutions to problems. Also in this media and internet saturated environment there is a growing realization that “all information and news are not created equally, fairly and accurately.” Thus, more than ever, our young people need to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. They also need the tools to be responsible and effective creators of news and information themselves.
Q: You recently were re elected to the board of the News Literacy Project and a member of the founding board. Can you briefly describe the mission and goals of this project? How does the News Literacy Project align with the need to develop critical thinking skills?
A: The News Literacy Project connects seasoned journalists with schools and youth media programs to give students the critical-thinking skills to sort fact from fiction in the digital age. NLP also seeks to develop an appreciation of the standards of quality journalism and to light a spark of interest in news and information that matters. The project’s goal is to give young people the tools to become better students today and better-informed citizens tomorrow. It also wants to share those tools with teachers, librarians and other educators to reach as many students as possible. Working with educators, students and journalists, NLP has developed original curriculum materials that focus on such topics as discerning news from opinion, advertising and propaganda; determining the credibility of sources; the importance of the First Amendment; viral email; using Google and other search engines to find information, and the ethics of blogging. Most of the activities include one or more of the following elements: student discussion, engagement with journalists, and interactive challenges. Many require the use of multi-media technology, a focus that NLP encourages with its educators and journalist fellows. The curriculum is built on four pillars that address questions of critical importance:
• Why does news matter?
• Why is the First Amendment protection of free speech so vital to American democracy?
• How can students know what to believe?
• What challenges and opportunities do the Internet and digital media create?
The project aligns with critical thinking by getting students to ask questions about the credibility, accuracy and fairness of the news and information that students read, see and hear. It also helps to give students the tools to be responsible and effective creators of news and information themselves.
The project views news literacy as tantamount to literacy for the 21st century and the skills it embodies essential to success as a student, a consumer and a citizen.
Q: Do you think this project is a good match for afterschool with older youth? If so, is it better designed for middle school youth or high school age youth?
A: The project has already worked with students in after-school programs in New York and Chicago. The flexibility and additional time permits students to work collaboratively with each other and with NLP journalist fellows to learn valuable digital skills and to create compelling and substantive video and audio reports. In the case of the three pieces listed below, the students also presented their work to the community at showcase events. All three pieces are posted on NLP’s YouTube channel and the two audio pieces done in Chicago are on the PBS site as well. NLP has been successful at the middle-school level with its afterschool programs and feels this would also be a good fit at the high-school level.
• East Harlem IS was produced by middle school students in New York City in partnership with NLP and Citizen Schools in 2009
• Peer Pressure was produced by middle-school students in Chicago in 2010
• Video Games was produced by middle school students in Chicago in 2011
Dr. Terry K. Peterson served as counselor to former Education Secretary Richard Riley. Terry spearheaded numerous national education initiatives during the Clinton administration as well as state reforms as education adviser to Riley during his governorship of South Carolina. In both positions, Riley said, Terry was his “right-hand man.” He remains deeply involved in education as a senior fellow at the College of Charleston, director of the Afterschool and Community Learning National Network and chairman of the national Afterschool Alliance. Terry called the News Literacy Project "very impressive" and "a very important effort."