UChicago Second-Year Helps Pass Illinois Media Literacy Education Law

During his senior year at Naperville Central High School in 2020–21, Braden Hajer helped pass House Bill 234, mandating that every public high school in Illinois include a unit of media literacy education in its curriculum.


Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia Commons

The chambers of the Illinois House of Representatives.

By Casey Kim

Second-year Braden Hajer helped pass a recently enacted law requiring every public high school in Illinois to include a unit of instruction on media literacy in its curriculum starting with the 2022–23 school year. Hajer worked with his Humanities Capstone teacher Seth Brady (A.M. ’11), PolitiFact founder Bill Adair, Senior Vice President of Education at the News Literacy Project Peter Adams, and State Representative Elizabeth Hernandez to draft House Bill 234 before it was signed in July 2021.

According to Representative Hernandez’s press release, the media literacy curriculum teaches students how to access information, evaluate media messages, and consume media ethically.

During the fall semester of his senior year at Naperville Central High School in 2020–21, Hajer took Humanities Capstone, a research-based class following the Illinois Global Scholar model that encourages students to create actionable change. Hajer chose to study the history of fake news for his semester-long research project, which inspired him to draft the bill.

“Drafting a bill is hard, it turns out, but it can be done,” Hajer said. “If you’re willing enough, the time is right, you’re a little lucky, and you have the right structure, you definitely can make change.”

Hajer began by examining previous bills regarding media literacy across different states. After editing, strengthening, and expanding the texts of previous bills, Hajer consulted with field experts for feedback and gathered almost 220 witness slips, which are individual or group positions on a particular bill. Once it was time to push the bill through the legislative branches, he testified twice over Zoom throughout the first half of 2021, first to the Elementary & Secondary Education: School Curriculum & Policies Committee of the Illinois House of Representatives and then to the equivalent committee of the Illinois Senate.

Hajer said it was “not impossible, but unlikely” that he would pursue a future in legislative advocacy. Instead, Hajer, a prospective media arts and design major, hopes to compose electronic music for video games.

Brady, who taught Hajer’s Capstone class, closely facilitated Hajer’s development throughout the entire process and shared his hopes for what young people could achieve.

“As amazing as Braden’s process was and the action he took, I think there’s a whole lot more. I think this form of education needs to be expanded,” Brady said. “What I really appreciate about Gen Z is that it’s not enough to just care and know about issues. You all are actors, you’re doers. And I think it’s the responsibility of teachers to provide the platforms and classes that really teach the skills for how to do that, that really matches the passion of Gen Z.”

Correction, January 18, 2023: This article originally stated that Hajer testified to the House of Representatives twice. He only testified in front of the House of Representatives on the first occasion.

Braden Hajer with his teacher, Seth Brady, in a hallway with crimson lockers behind them. Both are wearing masks.
Braden Hajer with his Humanities Capstone teacher, Seth Brady. (Courtesy of Braden Hajer)