Christian Armstrong: ‘We prioritize news literacy over all else’


Christian Armstrong grew up in the same housing projects where Michelle Obama had lived as a young girl — a notoriously dangerous section of Chicago’s South Side now known as O Block. He never read a newspaper, watched the news on television or listened to it on the radio.

“I figured it had nothing to do with me,” he said.

It was like that for him in his daily life, too. He woke up, he said, to the violence in the city’s streets, to people who were hungry and had hard lives, to the police who were charged with keeping the community safe but didn’t seem to do so. In his mind, there was nothing he could do about it; powerless, he floated through life, surviving rather than living.

Then, last year, Christian enrolled in Leo High School’s semester-long news literacy class, which prepares students in the all-boys Catholic school to work on the school newspaper. Bill Figel, a co-teacher, weaves the News Literacy Project’s original curriculum into the class.

Soon, Christian began reading the Chicago Tribune every day and tackling daily news-related assignments. He began thinking about such things as media coverage of shootings in Chicago, Sean Penn’s Rolling Stone interview with a fugitive Mexican drug lord, and the presidential election. Students in the class were tweeting questions to a Chicago Tribune columnist — and were surprised when he tweeted back.

Christian was also learning what to believe and what not to believe by looking for bylines, statistics and other verifiable information, and by checking his own biases. He was getting the gist of it, he said. “But it was baby steps for me.”

Even so, Figel said, “he showed a real strength and ability to take a stand. … One could sense enlightenment driving Chris as he realized he was finding himself in his expression of the issues.”

Then one day Figel asked the students to put themselves in a story: What if you were a person in a position of power? What would you want written about you? What if something happened to you, an everyday Joe? What would be said?

Something in that clicked for Christian. News did matter. News was now about, and for, him. “We are the ones who live here,” he said. “We matter as citizens.”

Earlier this year, Christian, now 18, recalled his experience in the news literacy class during an NLP VIP breakfast featuring ESPN’s Michael Wilbon. Tall and thin, like a yard-long bean in a pressed shirt and striped tie, he spoke softly — yet with impressive poise and confidence — about his newfound sense of engagement and empowerment.

“This class has definitely changed my life,” Christian said. “We prioritize news literacy over all else. The newspaper is considered to be our Holy Grail.”

More Updates

‘It’s really muddying the waters’: NLP’s Covington on pink slime

Pink slime outlets pose as legitimate local news organizations, but they lack the ethical standards of trustworthy journalism. In a recent mLive article, Hannah Covington, NLP’s senior director of education content, weighed in on a pink slime newspaper circulating in Michigan and emphasized the need for news literacy skills to detect unreliable stories, especially ahead…

NLP in the News

New Jersey station highlights classroom using NLP resources

A recent NJ Spotlight News segment featured a middle school class at Princeton Montessori School in New Jersey, where News Literacy Project Ambassador Aish Sami uses free educator resources from NLP to teach a media literacy course. “My hope and dreams for the students when they walk out of the classroom is that they feel…

NLP in the News

Webinar: Introducing Camp Fact-Check

This free webinar for educators, presented by the News Literacy Project, explores virtual lessons and other resources that can be used to teach students fact-checking skills over the summer.