Make it Happen
Who can teach media literacy? You can.
Language Arts provides countless opportunities for media education. Some examples include deconstructing film and television texts; adapting a short story or novel into a film; scriptwriting; storytelling across media; examining bias in print, television or online news; analyzing representation in media texts; and assessing the accuracy and influence of these representations.
Media education is embedded in reading, writing, listening and oral communication outcomes. It lends itself perfectly to thematically organized education in the primary and elementary grades. A unit on television might involve classroom surveys and interviews on habits and preferences, an examination of the dynamics of family life through sitcoms, the production of a school newscast and an analysis of toy ads in the context of marketing to youth.
Healthy living and lifestyle choices are at the heart of Health curricula. What health-related messages are promoted in mainstream media? What roles do advertising and entertainment play in affecting consumer and lifestyle choices? Where do media fit in our lives compared with other information sources, such as parents, friends, schools and health practitioners? This is especially relevant with issues around sexuality, substance abuse and obesity.
Whether the topic is the family, self-image or conflict resolution, media and popular culture provide a common framework for discussion. How do marketers' definitions of "cool" compare with what we value in friends? What real-life consequences might result from the acts of aggression that we see onscreen? Do film, television and fashion content promote male-female power imbalances and reinforce unattainable standards of attractiveness?
Although we live in a "global village", information about our interdependent and interconnected world comes mostly from mainstream Western sources. How do sensational news stories and images relating to natural disasters, crises and war fuel misconceptions in the West that people in developing nations are helpless victims? How does mainstream news differ from alternative sources of news, and what impact might alternative perspectives - for example, those available on the Internet - eventually have on the mainstream Canadian press? As globalization of media increases, what impressions are non-Western people gleaning about Western society?
In the Civics classroom, an examination of media and politics can contribute to students' awareness and engagement as citizens. This might include discussions about "spin," sound bites, media styles of politicians, the influence of media ownership on political reporting, and the orchestration of public opinion through public relations campaigns. Civics students might also examine social justice, activism and human rights issues through discussions on democratic access to media technologies.
Stereotypes are prevelant in media communications. An analysis of the way various media portray Aboriginal peoples and visible minorities can help students understand how stereotypes function in popular culture, the conditions that give rise to them, and how these stereotypes can influence our perceptions of entire groups of people.
Students tell us that finding and authenticating information on the Internet and protecting online privacy are the topics they most want to learn about. But most Information and Communications Technology programs focus more on technological training than developing search, citing and assessment skills, and the ability to think critically about broader issues. These issues include detecting bias, avoiding plagiarism, and considering the cultural, economic, and personal implications of technology.
Popular music is a good jumping off point for examining the influence of media on content, comparing the delivery of similar messages through different music genres, and assessing the influence of the audience (the listener) in constructing meaning and recognizing pleasure.
Today's Visual Arts students need to access a variety of specific skills drawn from media analysis and production. Digital manipulation and special effects, for example, offer a new realm of creative potential. As they add these skills to their repertoire, students can be encouraged to discuss the intellectual property rights and social issues involved in this new field of creativity. When, for instance, and by what criteria, is digital manipulation ethical?
You are essential in helping kids better understand media, gaining control of the home entertainment playground, and encouraging media education in schools and communities.
As specialists in information literacy, you have an important role to play in providing access to quality media education resources and promoting Internet literacy.