On a sunny Friday morning in June, Carlos McKnight was startled when he checked his Twitter feed.
“You are a true definition of what it means to actively engage in our democratic society,” read a tweet from @TMAtalks, the account of the high school from which Carlos had graduated just two weeks earlier. Attached was a photo of Carlos on the steps of the Supreme Court, shot hours earlier by an Associated Press photographer.
“Where did you find it?” Carlos messaged back. “It’s everywhere!” @TMAtalks replied.
Indeed, by the end of the day, the image of Carlos — clad in white T-shirt and baseball cap, waving a rainbow flag and holding a “Love Can’t Wait” sign while the sun peeked over the iconic court building — was featured by news organizations around the world, including Time magazine, CNN and Bloomberg. The striking photo appeared alongside articles about the court’s historic 5-4 ruling that same-sex couples had the right to marry.
“Well, it shows how rapidly news travels,” Carlos mused recently, reflecting on the connection between the viral photograph and his News Literacy Project lessons at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School in Washington, D.C. His media literacy class was the first in the school to partner with NLP.
Carlos recalls numerous moments from the class that he took as a sophomore, including sessions with reporters Tracie Potts of NBC News and Pierre Thomas of ABC News, who impressed him with an understanding of what it takes to be a journalist — or, as Carlos put it, “how to suppress your own opinion to give news factually and without bias.”
CNN producer Brian Rokus was a guest as well, sharing multiple script drafts and revisions of a documentary he produced. That lesson, said Carlos, informed his own work when he created a short documentary for a class assignment in 2013. He interviewed teachers at his school and others about their attitudes toward the media and bias; he even ventured into the halls of the nearly Capitol, where he posed a few on-camera questions to Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.).
Learning how to distinguish between news and opinion and writing objectively or subjectively “taught me how to be a critical thinker and less gullible about news,” Carlos said.
For the past three years, Carlos has remained engaged with NLP.
At NLP public forums held at Georgetown and George Washington universities in 2012 and 2013, he assisted behind the scenes before posing thoughtful questions to the panels of prominent journalists.
In 2014, he joined five other students who had completed NLP units for a panel discussion moderated by Gwen Ifill before an audience of more than 1,000 at the plenary session of the national conference of the Council on Foundations in Washington.
Soon after, he became a member of NLP’s youth advisory committee. In June, he eloquently described the importance of news literacy at an NLP VIP breakfast featuring Gerald Seib, the Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau chief.
Carlos also appears in the NLP video “News Literacy Is.”
Following a summer internship at the State Department, Carlos will enroll next month at Daemen College in Buffalo, New York, where he plans to major in political science.
He’ll be taking his news literacy lessons with him.