We run all kinds of deficits in our society. We spend money we don’t have, at every level of society, sinking ourselves into perhaps unpayable debt for the long run. We invest too little and speculate too much, and our political class caters to a national refusal to face up to long-term realities.
We’ve been running a similar deficit in critical thinking. We regiment children instead of helping them to be creative, teaching them to take standardized tests instead of helping them think for themselves. In too many school districts, teaching critical thinking would be denounced as a dangerous experiment.
It’s not dangerous at all. It’s entirely American to challenge authority. But skepticism shouldn’t become pure cynicism that we drape over everything we see. It should motivate us to seek out the best evidence, and learn from what we discover.
We need to teach our kids how to be mediactive in a media-saturated world. But they’re not the only ones who need instruction; adults who are not digital natives have plenty to learn, while modern youths who think they know the media terrain often can’t (or don’t bother to) distinguish different levels of trustworthy information in the midst of their forum-hopping. For all of us, no matter our age, mediactivity is a lifetime practice, a collection of principles and skills that we keep learning and tweaking, in part because technology and our societal norms have a way of changing, too.
Why should we do this? Because democratized media is part of democracy, and democracy is about more than simply voting. It is about participation as citizens. Participating in media is a step toward being participants in a broader way, which works, in the end, only when we know what we’re talking about; citizenship is not an exercise in demagoguery with your neighbors as props, but rather is about persuading and working with them—and perhaps being persuaded by them.
Those deeply committed to mediactivism will not only consume news wisely and create materials that help their communities, but will always be on the lookout for ways to help others become mediactive and sharpen their own skills.