Students and the News: 21st Century Information

Here's a problem I face in teaching, semester after semester: my students have extremely little knowledge of current events.    This would be a minor irritation if I taught biology or art history, maybe, but since I teach international affairs, it's a serious handicap in the classroom.   We can't discuss particular cases that illustrate important points.   We can't use ideas from our readings to analyzing concrete problems in the world today.   And we can't try and prognosticate about how things will turn out, because they don't have the faintest idea what happened last week, or last month, or ten years ago.

It's bad enough when I teach gen ed courses.  Last year, I had students who couldn't identify Berlin as the capital of Europe, and who had never heard of Putin, much less Lenin.  One student actually asked me, "Will the books for this class be in English or in European"?

But when I'm teaching a 400 level course for International Studies majors?  It's inexcusable.  It's keeping them unemployable.  Who the hell is going to hire an international studies major who doesn't know what is going on in the world?

When i was in college, we fancied ourselves to be adults.   We called each other 'women' and 'men' instead of 'boys' and 'girls,' we spent endless hours drinking coffee in the student union and shooting the shit over ideas, and we read the newspaper.   Every day.  Preferably while smoking (which was also a part of being an adult for some of us).

The smoking, okay, I can see why the students today have given that a pass.  But the news?  It's even FREE---they can get a free pass to the New York Times, the Wall St. Journal, etc.   Why don't they read the news any more?

Am I missing some crucial understanding of their media ecology?   How do I encourage them (or MAKE THEM) keep up on current events?  I hate to do the namby-pamby in-class summary event, mostly because it wastes class time, but I'm getting desperate.  And I want this to be a practice they'll continue throughout their adult lives, not a class assignment they'll drop when class is over.