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What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers

What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers
Keeping Children Safe

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Teaching Children to Determine Validity and Accuracy in this Fake-News / Post-Truth World

In the aftermath of a presidential campaign which research now has shown was dominated by fake news, which may have even influenced the outcome of the election, it is imperative that voters, and even more importantly, our young people, especially since so many people rely on social media for their news, are able to determine the difference between fake news and actual fact. After all, our society, indeed and unfortunately, has become a post-truth world.

As a voter and as a former teacher and librarian, I have long realized the importance of teaching children (and adults) to distinguish between misinformation, bias, and just out-right deliberately created fake news. I wish to share this excellently written blog post written by a librarian, Judy Moreillon, about that very concern. I have shared her post below, and I assign full credit to Ms Moreillon for her wise words and advice for addressing the problem:

Fake “News” in a “Post-truth” World

In the wake of a contentious U.S. presidential election cycle, researchers and educators are shining a spotlight on critical “information literacy” skills. Determining authority, accuracy, and bias have long been essential aspects of analyzing content and sources of information. Today, this is no easy task for students (and adults as well) when authors of “information” do their best to deceive readers or hide their identity behind domains, such as .org, factual-seeming but phony statistical data, and authoritative-sounding language based on “pants of fire” lies.

In her 2014 book, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, researcher Danah Boyd wrote, “becoming literate in a networked age requires hard work, regardless of age” (177). While the amount of fake “news” has increased exponentially, the problem of determining authority and validity in information sources has been a critical skill since the early days of the Internet.
How long have school librarians been challenging students to determine the bias in David Duke’s Stormfront Martin Luther King Jr. Web site? I began using it in 2002 when I moved from an elementary to a high school position, and I am certain others were using it before me.  (See the 7.3 Category Matrix from Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact Challenging “Determining Main Ideas” Lesson Plan.)

Researchers at Stanford University recently conducted and released the results of a 2015-2016 study, “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning.”  The study showed what school and academic librarians have known through their own observations and action research related to middle, high school, and college-level students’ information literacy proficiency: “Young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak” (4).

Last week on LM_NET, school librarian Andrew van Zyl of St. Alban’s College, Pretoria, South Africa, raised the responsibilities of school librarians in a “post-truth” world when he posted information about Oxford Dictionaries’ announcement that “post-truth” reflects the “passing year in language.” It defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Some who entered the conversation wondered if librarians should be engaged in “politics.” For me the answer is clear. Literacy is “political” because it empowers people. From my perspective, school librarians are required to teach youth to determine the authority and accuracy of information and we are charged with co-teaching with classroom teachers to ensure that students are information literate.

Taken together, “fake news” in a “post-truth” world creates an even greater need for the information literacy expertise of school librarians. Information is supposed to be factual, whether or not it is considered “news.” (Even in the halcyon days when people read printed newspapers, reporters and editors frequently rushed to “get ahead of the story” and published “errors” that later had to be corrected.) When school librarians bring their expertise to the collaboration table, they can co-teach with classroom teachers to help students develop critical literacy skills that are even more essential in the online information environment.

I think this recent post on “How to Spot Fake News” shows what librarians have long called “information literacy” is finally getting traction as a set of must-have skills for 21st-century students and adults as well:  (Information literacy and reading comprehension skills in parentheses)
• Consider the source. (Authority)
• Read beyond the headline. (Authority)
• Check the author. (Authority)
• What’s the support? (Accuracy and Reliability)
• Check the date. (Relevance and Reliability)
• Is this some kind of joke? (New in the post-truth world!)
• Check your biases. (Questioning)
• Consult the experts. (Questioning)

Like all educators, school librarians must continually self-assess and develop our skills. But we have a strong information literacy foundation on which to build and the desire and responsibility to share our expertise with students, colleagues, and community. Fake “news” and a “post-truth” world call all school librarians to step up  and lead.

Works Cited
Boyd, Dana. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.
Robertson, Lori Robertson, and Eugene Kiely. “How to Spot Fake News,” November 18, 2016,
Stanford History Education Group. “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning: Executive Summary,” Stanford University. 22 Nov. 2016,
Image Credit: Newspaper Clipping created at
Additional Recommended Reading:
Stevenson, Sara. “Information Literacy Lessons Crucial in a Post-Truth World,” Knowledge Quest Blog, 18 Nov. 2016,
Valenza, Joyce. “Truth, Truthiness, Triangulation, and the Librarian Way: A News Literacy Toolkit for a Post-truth World,” Neverending Search Blog, 26 Nov. 2016,

Picture credit and Stanford study info: NPR News

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Voting Wisely in the 2016 Presidential Election: A Moral Imperative for the Future Safety and Well-being of Our Children

It is imperative that parents make themselves informed before casting a vote in the United States presidential election .on November 8, 2016. Parents' and grandparents' votes can impact the safety and security of their little ones' future.
John F. Kennedy wisely said, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.” The words of our beloved former President Kennedy, whose life was tragically taken by the assassination of a madman in 1963, are especially prophetic for the 2016 United States Presidential election. So were the words of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, in saying, “The only danger that America really needed to fear would come from within: If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
The importance of being informed this election year and voting wisely is more important than at any other time in our country’s recent history. What is at stake is stark! I have tried to think like Trump supporters in an attempt to assess why they would support such a candidate, but I have found that task impossible and incomprehensible.
I feel that voters have a moral imperative to become more informed about the actual facts about the real Donald Trump and not just swallow his hype and attention-getting sound bytes. To do so would mean that voters should study the policy differences of both candidates and become informed about the Constitution of the United States of America - ( at least more informed about the U.S. Constitution than Donald Trump, who apparently believes it has 12 articles in it, seems to be ). It would mean reading reliable sources and viewing universally trusted and more non-partisan news media on television and radio and on the Internet rather than limiting themselves to the bias and frequent misinformation of the pundits on Fox News (an apparent favorite of Trump supporters).
Below are some actual facts about Donald Trump, based upon his own words and behavior displayed in his rallies and other public appearances. These are facts that voters need to know:
Mr. Trump’s style, personality, racism, and insults are not patriotic, much less presidential. Such style does not lend itself to the ability to govern, to accept compromise, or to understanding the viewpoints and objectives of others. As a representative of the US, he engenders more an image of distrust, win at any cost, and selfishness.
Mr. Trump’s personal criticism of one American-born citizen and its extension to an entire population is the epitome of class racism. In addition, it reveals a basic flaw in Mr. Trump’s childish bullying practices and paranoia: the rulings that are deemed as “unfair” because he didn’t get what he wanted.

Mr. Trump’s proposal to build a wall separating Mexico “and have Mexico pay for it” promotes a first step toward isolationism, a tactic that will, without a doubt, cause harm to the US economy, citizenry and our country’s image throughout the world. His position for non-support of NATO is another step toward dangerous isolationism.

Mr. Trump  has spoken of global warming as a hoax, but seeks permits to build a(nother) wall to protect his golf course in Scotland (citing coastal erosion and a rising sea level). This is a prime example of his hypocrisy.

Mr.Trump changed his position on gun control, especially in regard to assault-type weapons. While once supporting an assault weapons ban and longer waiting periods, his recent switch is an effort to gain NRA support and paint Mrs.Clinton as one who would “abolish the Second Amendment”.

Mr.Trump made an extraordinary plea for a foreign power to continue cyber espionage against America. In Donald Trump’s own words: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said at a press conference in Miami, Florida on Wednesday. “I think you’ll be rewarded mightily by our press!”

Many have questioned whether such a call by a presidential candidate is a crime or is treasonous. At the very least, it is a statement that makes it apparent that Mr. Trump lacks the judgment and temperament to assume the role of the president of our country.  Federal law does say that it's illegal to "counsel or induce" someone else to commit a crime, and a former federal prosecutor says Trump's statement "approaches the line."

Mr. Trump’s persistent criticism of Muslims and his suggested ban on immigration are counter to long-established values and practices that are inherent in the Constitution and in the American experience. His brash blanket statements reveal the wrong things about American character.

 In the poignant appearance of Muslim lawyer Khizr Khan and his wife whose son, Humayun, an Army captain who posthumously received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery after he was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004, is a testimony to the cruel injustice of Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and his ignorance of the U.S. Constitution  and to his apparent lack of awareness of what really makes America great already. 

As his wife, Ghazala, stood silently by his side, Khan held up a copy of the Constitution and asked Trump if he had ever read it and said, “You have sacrificed nothing.”

You can view, by clicking the link provided here, the heart wrenching appearance of this intelligent, patriotic, and grieving Muslim mother and father in their DNC convention appearance talking about the loss of their son and passionately addressing  Mr. Trump for his Muslim discriminatory statements.

Quoting Tony Schwartz, the ghost writer of The Art of the Deal, a man who learned a lot about Mr.Trump during his writing process, "People are dispensable and disposable in Trump’s world. If Trump is elected President, the millions of people who voted for him and believe that he represents their interests will learn what anyone who deals closely with him already knows—that he actually couldn’t care less about them."

The possibility that Donald Trump could be elected as President of the United States of America is a frightening one. If that were to happen, it would be a constitutional disaster for our democracy and a catastrophe for our country’s  freedoms, safety and security. I am paraphrasing the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, when she stated that the fact that anyone who can be baited with a Tweet has no business anywhere near the nuclear codes. And to think that, as a nominee of the Republican Party, Donald Trump will soon be given, as is traditional, National Intelligence Security briefings! These are all the types of thoughts that keep me awake at night.

Note: My various blogs are, not only meant to be informative for various types of reading audiences on various subjects, but are also intended to be promotional and lend public exposure to my published books.

I am the author of three award-winning children's books that aim to advocate for the well-being, education, and entertainment of children. The books include What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World Strangers (published by Headline Books, Inc.), Scary Ghosts and Playful Ghosts: Children's Tales of Fright and Delight (published by Crimson Cloak Publishing), and The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale (published by Write Solution Ink).

Readers may also access book information, as well as useful information and resources that advocate for the education, well-being and entertainment of children by visiting my book website, Melissa Harker Ridenour Books.

Purchase information for these books can be accessed via my Amazon Author Page.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Summer Vacation: A Brain Drain on Children?

Research verifies that children’s summer vacation causes brain drain. They forget what they learned in school. There are ways to prevent such learning loss.

Brain drain is the term for the learning loss that many kids experience over the summer vacation from school. Educators and parents are seeking strategies to prevent learning loss during the vacation time.

Research Findings

Research shows that most students lose, on average, a couple of months of math skills during the summer break. Students coming from low income homes lose two to three months in reading skills. Middle class students, however, make slight gains in reading achievement as evidenced in standardized test scores.

The research findings suggest that children lose math computation skills when they don't use them and that middle-class students read more over the summer than those from poor families. One reason could be that middle class students have access to more books in their homes than those from lower income homes.

Research additionally shows that retention of what is learned during the school year is related to the greater variety of summer experiences for children from middle-class and higher income homes. Their exposure to summer camps, vacations, and learning experiences in their own homes, facilitated by their parents, helps to reduce the effects of brain drain. The lack of resources for poorer children in the summer has a huge negative impact on knowledge retention.

Strategies to Prevent Summer Learning Loss

Educators suggest that if the summer gap can be eliminated, we can close the longstanding achievement gap between richer and poorer kids. Even children from lower income families grow reading skills at about the same rate as middle-class kids, when they are in school. Most of the achievement gap occurs during the summers rather than during the school year. Educators believe the solution lies in closing the summer gap between the children from lower income families and children from families who have better incomes.

There is much value in summer learning programs for children to make up for the learning deficit. There are summer learning programs all across the United States that provide academic enrichment, physical exercise and healthy meals to children to better ensure academic success when they return to school.

Parents can help stave off their children’s brain drain by having them frequent the library in summer and by encouraging them to read.  In addition, parents can have their children use safe, educational Internet sites.
Sylvan Learning Centers offer free grade-appropriate math workbooks for children to use in the summer months. Some of the Sylvan Centers offer a camp-like learning environment with craft activities, brain teasers and video streaming of important world events. Parents should check their local newspapers and bulletin boards for educational summer camp offerings, such as writing workshops , computer camps, and theatre workshops.

Parents should also take advantage of opportunities to have their children use math skills. For example, if the children are swimming in the pool, parents can have them figure out the area, diameter, and volume of the pool. They can ask their children to compute how much the water in the pool would weigh at about 9 pounds per gallon. On road trips, parents can have their children figurethe trip mileage by using a map and adding up the distance as indicated on the map.

Parents should have their children handle and count money. Parents can teach children how to use and balance a check book. Such activities will lessen the brain drain of math skills, the curricular area that is most dramatically affected by the summer lapse from school.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Keeping Kids Safe in the Age of Social Media

Keeping children safe in this age of social media, apps, and smartphones is of paramount importance. Parents need to be vigilant in regard to what their children are accessing on the Internet, social media sites, and any apps that they may have access to download.
A new update to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which was originally passed in 1998, makes COPPA more relevant in the social media and mobile phone age. In addition, it places some additional burdens on companies that target children under13 years of age.
Websites and phone apps that collect photos or geo-location data from children must now obtain express permission from parents. This requirement places that data in the same category as kids' email or home addresses. The new rules also make firms more responsible for data collection by third parties, a loophole that had been exploited by marketers in the past.
Parents might not notice much change at first. Some apps that kids use might begin requesting parental permissions via emails or other methods. Because of that, parents should be vigilant that their children don't try to circumvent those rules by using a fake email address to grant themselves permission.
A spokesperson for the Center for Digital Democracy claims that with the update, a child's privacy online, whether they use a mobile phone, tablet, gaming device or computer, is protected. The new rules put the parent in charge of what data can be collected from their child.
Children attempting to use Facebook  and Twitter remains a concern, however. Facebook and Twitter don't allow children under 13  to use their sites, so those firms aren't subject to COPPA restrictions. The reality is, however, that millions of kids lie their way onto the social networks anyway. Statistics show that 50% of parents claim that their 12-year-old children use Facebook. This is an alarming statistic. COPPA won't have any real impact on this circumvention, but it might impact third-party developers who target kids on Facebook according to privacy law experts.
Hopefully, the updates will require Facebook to become more vigilant about policing the apps they allow on their website. The FTC has fired a warning to Facebook and other digital social networking sites that they must do a better job of ensuring that they protect the personal privacy of children. An ideal situation would be when and if the FTC starts cracking down on  social networks, apps, and other digital platforms that are looking the other way regarding the age of its users. Until then, it is a parent responsibility to monitor their children’s use of the Internet and Smartphones to better ensure their children’s safety.
My book,What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World of Strangers is a children's  book that empowers children to take a proactive role to stay safe from potential abuse, abduction or predator harm It also includes a chapter for parents  and teachers with helpful information and resources they can use.  Purchase information for the book, as well as for my other children's books can be accessed via my Amazon Author Page.

Readers may also access book information, as well as useful information and resources that advocate for the well-being and entertainment of children by visiting my book website, Melissa Harker Ridenour Books.