Young people and the right to information


By Mary Treacy



The right to know is the birthright of every child born in this democracy. The challenge is to recognize and nurture that right, to inculcate the attitudes and skills that make it a reality. The welfare of the child and of the nation depends on the exercise of this fundamental right.

The problem is that the right itself is exercised not in the abstract but in the concrete – in the ways a young person develops the habit of probing, questioning, weighing facts, defending a position, understanding the sources, the barriers, the politics and economics of access to information by and about the government.

It is stories that young learners come to understand what lies behind the published narrative, the editorial, the decision, the report, the media analysis or, in the midst of a campaign, the hype.

Young people need concrete examples of how, when and why access to good information makes a difference. Then, and only then, can they appreciate their inalienable right to know.

Even in this digital age, the written word remains an effective teaching tool. Good books communicate connections, convey the ways in which information comes to be, illustrate how it is shared or secreted. A good story well told demonstrates the power of information to shape decisions that ultimately determine action.

Open government and the role of a free press are difficult concepts, the link between cause and effect of access is frequently nuanced, always dependent on human interaction at every link of the information chain.

Explaining the right to know in a captivating tale – such as, for example, in the American Library Association’s Young Adult Services Association 2015 award-winning “Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War” by Steve Sheinkin – can make history and the right to know the truth about that history vivid for readers of all ages.

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Treacy writes the “Poking Around With Mary” blog. She is a longtime FOI advocate in Minnesota and serves as outreach coordinator for OpenTheGovernment.org.

By Mary Treacy

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