Over the past year, three classrooms in Illinois explored PBS NewsHour’s coverage of Ukraine to analyze underreported elements of breaking news stories about the region.
Two Pulitzer Center Teaching Fellows included a range of articles from PBS NewsHour’s projects, centering the conflict in units they wrote, implemented, and published on the Pulitzer Center website.
In Authoritarian Governments on the Rise by Illinois-based high school educator and longtime Pulitzer Center collaborator Barbara Lindauer, students analyzed the differences between authoritarian and democratic governments by exploring reporting from Eastern European countries that were once part of the Eastern Bloc.
To learn more about the region and the impact of government policies and practices on individuals, students read and discussed a range of Pulitzer Center-supported reporting from PBS NewsHour, including the Authoritarianism and Misinformation in Eastern Europe webinar, Inside Russia, and Authoritarianism on the March in Eastern Europe. After examining the growing numbers of authoritarian leaders and policies in the region, students evaluated to what degree the political trend influences American politics and the role propaganda plays in advancing the policies of authoritarian leaders across the globe.
In My Story, on My Terms: Migration During Times of Conflict by high school educator Neil Cruz, students explored migration by reading stories focused on regions experiencing conflict in the world. Encouraging students to consider how big issues affect individual experiences, Cruz included the in-depth reporting project Russia Invades Ukraine. The reporting series developed in partnership with PBS NewsHour helped students analyze the systemic issues and underreported factors driving the ongoing conflict, as well as its global consequences.
More recently, Cruz invited Pulitzer Center grantee-journalist and NewsHour special correspondent Simon Ostrovsky to discuss Russia’s portrayal of its invasion of Ukraine as an example of how authoritarian governments employ state-sponsored media to shape national narratives.
Ostrovsky also led conversations about his coverage of Ukraine as part of a year-long collaboration between high school students at Whitney Young High School in Chicago and Lubny Specialized School 6 in Ukraine. This initiative was led by Anne-Michele Boyle, an AP World History and Global Citizenship teacher and longtime collaborator with the Pulitzer Center, and Assistant Principal Yulia Nikul, who also serves as the head of the foreign language department.
In preparation for these visits, students in Chicago and Ukraine dug into the many issues contributing to unrest in the country.
“We explored global press freedoms and connections to free and fair elections,” said Boyle. “ We also got into the difference between disinformation and misinformation and learned important skills such as lateral reading and reverse image lookup. We watched some of Simon’s PBS work on Russian disinformation and Putin’s war in Ukraine.”
Between their sessions with Simon, Boyle and Nikul’s classes met to discuss media literacy, focusing on a disinformation campaign about the relationship between Ukrainian President Zelensky and President Biden. Yulia remarked that despite a lack of media literacy training in the Ukrainian curriculum, her students could recall many instances of misleading information and stories that were underreported or not reported at all during wartime.
During his sessions with students, Ostrovsky gave students a behind-the-scenes account of his reporting on the war. Ostrovsky was recently awarded a Knight Wallace reporting fellowship from the University of Michigan to work on a series countering disinformation. He was able to dig deeper into these problems by exploring the nuances and impacts of disinformation during times of conflict and applying the ideas to his coverage of Ukraine and Russia.
As a result of the visit, students in Chicago and Ukraine are more prepared to engage with news stories about the war, and they practice skills to analyze the verity of new information. “We follow him on social media and discuss his new entries,” said Nikul. “We know he visited Ukraine in February. We also exchange news and try to analyze what we read.” Boyle added that “Our sessions with Simon Ostrovsky were one of the highlights of our Media Literacy & Democracy unit.”
To find ongoing, beyond-the-headlines coverage of the conflict in Ukraine, follow Russia Invades Ukraine on the Pulitzer Center website.