Headlines Extra -- Media Literacy

Gary Handman (ghandman@library.berkeley.edu)
Thu, 18 Mar 1999 17:01:06 -0800 (PST)

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>Subject: Headlines Extra -- Media Literacy
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>Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate
>messages in a wide variety of forms. The importance of media literacy is
>illustrated by a few statistics: By the time they graduate from high school,
>children will have spent 50% more time in front of a television set than in
>front of a teacher. Children between the ages of 2 to 11 watch 28 to 30
>hours of television a week, and view between 300 and 1,600 advertisements a
>day, while young adolescents (12 to 14 years old) watch an estimated 26
>hours of television per week. Later in adolescence, teenagers do shift away
>from television viewing, but become heavy consumers of recorded music,
>making up 25% of all record, CD, and cassette sales.
>This week's Headlines Extra focuses on recent discussions concerning media
>literacy and its role in the classroom.
> The Seven Great Debates in the Media Literacy Movement (JoC)
> The Struggle Over Media Literacy (JoC)
> Obstacles To The Development Of Media Literacy Education
> In The United States (JoC)
>An examination of the questions framing the foundational discussion of media
>literacy education in the US. These questions explicitly or implicitly guide
>the classroom practices of the educators who teach with or about the media.
>1) Should media literacy education aim to protect children and young people
>from negative media influences?
>Some justify media literacy -- especially to parents -- with claims that it
>will help guard youngsters from harmful images conveyed by the media. This
>approach -- called impact mediation -- is organized around "problem areas"
>like violence, stereotypes, risk-taking behavior, etc. Critics deride the
>protectionist rhetoric as elitist and practioners warn that it may ignore
>the genuine pleasures kids receive for media -- substituting cynicism and
>superiority instead of promoting real questioning and analysis.
>2) Should media production be an essential feature of media literacy
>Some educators believe that students must experience the creation of
>photographs, scripts, video programming, web pages or the like to become
>truly critical of mass media. Media production efforts fall into two
>categories -- expressive or vocational. Expressive media production focuses
>on strengthening students' creative skills, using language of empowerment to
>highlight the benefits of "finding one's own voice." Vocational media
>production focuses on collaborative teamwork, media production as an
>industry, and ways that nontraditional learners can excel (visual thinking,
>planning, editing, performing or directing). Opponents fear that students
>will learn to simply ape professionals without developing critical and
>analytical skills and that low-ability students will be relegated to "play"
>with production techniques while high-ability students get more traditional
>print-based education.
>3) Should media literacy focus on popular culture texts?
>Is Homer Simpson appropriate for the classroom? Some argue that using
>everyday texts provides the possibility for students and teachers to move
>beyond the limits of traditional disciplines and subject areas. Others
>believe that classical texts and fine contemporary works -- like the New
>York Times -- would make better subjects.
>4) Should media literacy have a more explicit political and ideological
>[Just typing this seems controversial in the age of the Culture Wars}
>Hobbs writes: "Because of the pedagogy of media literacy invites questions
>about how messages are constructed, educators rightly note that exploring
>power dynamics around message production and message consumption creates
>opportunities for meaningful political and social action. Yet, a number of
>policy leaders have voiced their fears that, without an explicit connection
>between media literacy skills and social and political advocacy, media
>literacy may degenerate into a substitute for action instead of a spur to
>5) Should media literacy be focused on school-based K-12 educational
>The question of whether media literacy should be taken outside the classroom
>to include the home environment as well. Schools can be, paradoxically, the
>most radical and the most conservative of institutions. "Media literacy
>initiatives have been most successful in communities where teachers, parents
>and students have a shared, common vision about the love-hate relationship
>with the media, Hobbs notes. Developing successful programs can take two
>years or so to get of the ground, though.
>6) Should media literacy be taught as a specialist subject or integrated
>within the context of existing subjects?
>Should media literacy be part of all subjects? Some see the power of this in
>teaching science, social studies, history, the arts, and literature. But
>others are more practical and realize that not all teachers can teach media
>literacy well. For the doubters, they believe that media literacy should be
>taught on its own by a well-prepared instructor.
>7) Should media literacy initiatives be supported financially by media
>Cable in the Classroom, the Newspaper Association of America Foundation, the
>Learning Channel, and the National Cable Television Association all provide
>media literacy materials to educators. Some salute their efforts for
>providing educators with access to tools, knowledge and strategies for media
>analysis and production. Critics say these media organizations are taking
>the antimedia stand out of media literacy and co-opting the movement to
>serve their own goals and ensuring that media criticism never gets too loud,
>abrasive, or strident. Educators, critics say, are so underfunded and
>desperate for materials that they will jump at any free offer.
>The rich diversity of perspective and approaches of media literacy is both a
>strength and a weakness. The future of the movement depends on the ability
>of this diverse assembly to reach some consensus on the issues raised above
>and to implement a pedagogy of inquiry -- to make "asking critical questions
>about what we watch, see and read" stand at the center of what it means to
>be media literate.
>[SOURCE: Journal of Communication, Winter '98 (p.16), AUTHOR: Renee Hobbs]
>Lewis and Jhally argue for an approach to media literacy that integrates
>context as well as textual analysis. Their argument is prompted by comments
>made by Renee Hobbs following the National Media Literacy Conference held
>in Los Angeles in October 1996. Hobbs expressed fear that media literacy
>was being conflated with media activism and media reform. Lewis and Jhally
>argue that a media literacy that fails to approach media as political
>loses an opportunity to promote not only understanding of the world, but
>the ability to change it.
>The authors argue that a political economic approach should be applied to
>media education, given that the goal of commercial media is to maximize
>profits, which shapes content. A broad understanding of media needs to
>consider it as a "circuit." Although it is possible to point out distinct
>moments involved with media, such as production, the text itself, and
>reception, it is important to understand how these moments are connected
>and how they come to be. First, the authors argue for a media literacy that
>integrates a contextual approach with textual analysis. Second, they argue
>for a necessity of a focus on political economy of media. Third, they
>consider the utility of incorporating production into media education.
>Finally, they consider the practical issues involved in implementing media
>literacy into K-12 education.
>The Media Literacy movement does not face the task of teaching citizens how
>to read mediated images. Instead, our ability to make sense of a "barrage
>of disconnected, split-second images," implies that a high level of media
>literacy already exists, by the simple fact that we live amidst these
>images everyday. Representations are played out at the level of the text
>and this is important to understand. However, simply identifying the finer
>nuances of a Seinfeld episode will not empower us. "Media Literacy, in
>short, is about more than the analysis of messages. It is an awareness of
>why those messages are there." The determinations of media
>content are not just economic, however. Determinations of media content lie
>at the heart of key dividing lines in our culture based on race, class,
>age, sexuality and mobility. Media education must consider media as located
>within social and economic realities. In order to deal with constraints and
>absences, like that of the Black working class on US television, media
>education must "go beyond the text."
>To explain what they mean by a contextualized media approach, the authors
>provide an example of a lesson on the Campaign for a Drug Free America. If
>a teacher asked students to critique an ad for the campaign, students may
>or may not come away with a cynicism for how they are viewed or positioned
>by authorities. On the other hand, if the teacher takes it a step further
>to explain that the campaign is, "a consortium funded by America's leading
>alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies," students may still be
>cynical, but it will be a more directed cynicism -- stemming from analysis,
>rather than a more vague attitude.
>Lewis and Jhally argue for the importance of a political economic component
>to media education. With US media as heavily deregulated and
>commercialized as it is, the authors have found students have difficulty
>imagining media to be any other way. "Indeed it could be argued that one of
>the successes of commercial broadcasting in the US has been persuading
>Americans that there is no alternative, and that the American system is the
>only conceivable model in a society that values free speech and free
>expression." The lack of public debate around the passing of the
>Telecommunications Act of 1996 is an example, of how "major restructuring
>of the media environment disappeared from public view." Media
>education that integrates political economic influences with an analysis of
>media texts will help to broaden these debates beyond legislators, media
>corporations and a few pressure groups.
>Incorporating production skills into a K-12 curriculum is not necessary to
>media education. A school's lack of resources should not be a barrier to
>implementing media education programs. The authors found that students who
>are equipped with technical production skills, but lack a critical
>distance, will tend to imitate commercial television. It can, however, be
>beneficial to incorporate production skills into a class on media context
>if it is done in a way that encourages students to think of possibilities
>beyond commercial television. They site the Educational Video Center in New
>York as a good example of integrating theoretical questions of power into
>production classes that encourage students to tell stories they don't get
>told elsewhere.
>Finally, the authors consider the politics of implementing media education.
>The urgency that parents, teachers and citizens feel today about the evils
>of the media is a testament to the urgent need for media education in the
>K-12 classroom. Answers that call for boycotts and censorship, such as the
>V-chip are negative, limited reactions that leave the basic political
>economic situation of lightly regulated media corporations in place. Lewis
>and Jhally argue that instead of considering an explicitly political media
>education as a dangerous, a solely textual approach, "risks losing the
>political impetus that gives it its current purchase."
>The authors' experiences with the Five-College Media Literacy Institute --
>providing teachers an introduction to a contextual, cultural studies
>approach they have outlined -- has taught them the need for a coherent
>Media Literacy project. In attempts to build up a critical mass of Media
>Literacy programs, the pluralism and diversity of approaches to media
>education in the US threatens to weaken its critical stance. A
>consideration of central concerns of media education needs to be considered.
>[SOURCE: Journal of Communication, Winter 1998 (p. 109); AUTHOR: Justin
>Lewis and Sut Jhally]
>Professor Robert Kubey explores some of the barriers to the institution of
>formal media literacy programs in the United States. Compared to other
>English speaking countries, the US public school system is far behind in the
>development of media literacy education. Australia, Britain, Canada, and
>South Africa (even under apartheid) have long out-paced America in
>incorporating media education into the general curriculum.
>The shear size and heterogeneous nature of the US population, according to
>Kubey, may account for much of the difficulty in instituting a nationwide
>curriculum for media education. With 50 states, and scores of local school
>boards in each, a coordinated national education effort is hard to come by.
>Most educational policies are instituted at the state or local level, with
>very few policies coming down from the federal government. Without federal
>mandates for the provision of media literacy, Kubey explains that teachers
>training programs have little incentives to prepare teachers for media
>The largest factor in the development of media education, "and a highly
>ironic one, is that other countries' education initiatives have been partly
>compelled by the huge importation of US television and film products," says
>Kubey. Many countries view media literacy as a way to temper the assault on
>their cultural identities that results from the onslaught of American media
>products. Media education, they hope, will equip youth with the skills
>necessary to critically evaluate the cultural values promulgated by imported
>The US, however, only imports a small fraction of the media products that
>are consumed here. The fact that most Americans are only exposed to
>American media may be the biggest obstacle to widespread support for media
>literacy in the United States. "To understand a culture you've got to go
>outside it. Americans never go outside their own culture," explains
>Australian theorist Peter Greenaway. "That's why media education barley
>exists there."
>[SOURCE: Journal of Communication (58), AUTHOR: Robert Kubey]
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><http://www.benton.org/cpphome.html> Communications-related Headline
>Service is posted Monday through Friday. The Headlines are highlights
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