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August 17, 2017

The role of media literacy in teaching your students about Charlottesville

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  • President Donald Trump made a series of statements about the participants in the deadly weekend protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, at a press conference on Tuesday in New York.
  • Trump defended those attending the white supremicist rally who disagreed about the taking down of the Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee. “It looked like they had some rough, bad people, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest…” Trump said. He suggested that “both sides,” the marchers and the counterdemonstrators, were equally violent.
  • On Friday evening neo-Nazis and white nationalists held a surprise torchlight march in which they filed through the University of Virginia’s main campus, chanting anti-Semitic statements.
  • The vast majority of counterdemonstrators were unarmed, according to PBS NewsHour’s P.J. Tobia who was in Charlottesville over the weekend. On Saturday, as white nationalists were leaving the park after city officials declared a state of emergency and called off the protest, they clashed with counterdemonstrators, said Tobia. “The white nationalists were far outnumbered, but most looked ready for a fight, wearing helmets and carrying sticks and shields,” he said.
  • Not long after, a car driven by 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. who had attended the rally allegedly rammed into a crowd of peaceful anti-white nationalist Nazi protesters, killing one and sending 19 more to the hospital. According to those who knew Fields, he had long idolized Adolf Hitler, and believed in white supremacy. Trump called Fields “a disgrace to himself, his family and this country.”

Key terms:

media literacy: the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication (NAMLE’s definition)

Confederacy: “the body formed by persons, states, or nations united by a league; specifically, capitalized: the 11 southern states seceding from the U.S. in 1860 and 1861″ (www.m-w.com)

alt-right: a political movement originating on social media and online forums, composed of a segment of conservatives who support extreme right-wing ideologies, including white nationalism and anti-Semitism” (http://www.dictionary.com)

neo-Nazi: a member of an organization that is similar to the German Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler


Discussion questions:
  1. Essential question: Why is media literacy, including reading multiple sources, important when discussing sensitive current events?
  2. How does President Trump’s view of the events in Charlottesville conflict with multiple media reports? Why do you think the majority of Americans including members of the Republican Party were disappointed in Trump’s reaction to what took place in Charlottesville?
  3. While the events in Charlottesville were tragic and have shaken many people’s idea of where we are as a country, a resilient spirit and determination to hold true to America’s democratic values of liberty and equality have also been exhibited over the last week. Do you think tragedies like Charlottesville may create an opportunity to discuss the effects of slavery in American history, including racism and the rise of white supremacy groups, in classrooms across the country? Explain your answer.
  4. If you are not sure about the history and meaning of white nationalism or the rise of white supremacy groups, there is a good chance that other students in your class may not be either. What questions would you like to ask about this issue? If your teacher is not sure how to answer a specific question, which could be the case given the sensitivity of the topic, what could he or she do so that your class could continue a healthy dialogue?

Extension activities
  1. To find out more about the history of Confederate monuments, read this NewsHour article Robert E. Lee opposed Confederate monuments.’ Do you think most people know of General Lee’s opposition to Confederate monuments that would “keep open the sores of war”? Do you think such knowledge would alter their opinion of whether or not the statues should be removed? Explain your response.
  2. Watch NewsHour video The shifting history of Confederate monuments.’ Why were Confederate statues erected? When were the majority built? What do you think should happen with the hundreds of Confederate statues that have been erected throughout the U.S.?
  3. Read these two NewsHour articles, Photo of ‘Antifa’ man assaulting officer was doctored, analysis shows and How the term alt-left came to be. Why it important to practice media literacy when first seeing a news story or an image or hearing from individuals in power? Why is it important to question the sources and seek multiple sources when reading about something in the news?
  4. Recommended NewsHour video stories (always preview before showing videos to your students and check with your administrator around sensitive topics).
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