The Next Step
Author: Kathleen Tyner
The minimum steps toward
implementing media education discussed here grow out of Canada's hard-won
experiences and can be applied to media literacy implementation in the
United States. The goals, objectives and pedagogical issues which are
the underpinnings of media education come from work done in Europe and
Australia. Finally, some of the thinking about implementing media literacy
across the curriculum has a peculiar U.S. spin. We can implement media
literacy by using American fascination with technology to its best advantage
in the current climate of reform.
Underlying Goals and Skill
The ideal media literacy
program includes both hands-on production and critical thinking about
mass media. U.S. programs tend to be heavily production-oriented and
often give short-shrift to the critical analysis side of media education.
There are a number of reasons for this. Some media education has grown
from technology education and eschews the academic side of media education.
Video production, especially, is often employed to interest kids who
are at risk of dropping out, or who are having problems in the language
arts area. Most of all, people think that students will naturally learn
media literacy skills by doing hands-on production.
In the Strategies for Media
Literacy workshops, we stress that media literacy does not happen "naturally."
It takes a systematic and formal approach to come up with a media education
program that marries hands-on with critical thinking about media. Students
must go beyond button-pushing, taping school plays and football games
and learning drill and practice exercises on the computer to become
media literate. It takes a rigorous, formal course of media study that
does not happen accidentally.
The focus on production
in the United States is not surprising. Americans love technology. Machines
and electronics are a major part of North American culture and we tend
to deal with the social consequences of technology later. Production
also fits in better with a job-readiness approach to education. Job
readiness is an important by-product of any educational effort, and
hands-on production is the ideal partner for a total understanding of
media, but the major goal of media education is not to train future
television producers. The main underlying goal of media education is
to teach good citizenship skills. If an informed public is the cornerstone
of a democratic society and if, as reported in a Gallup Poll, over 70%
of Americans receive news and information from television, then students
need to understand about media to be participating, critically autonomous
citizens in the age of information.
There was a time when amassing
information was a form of power, but with an avalanche of information
crashing down on us every day, it becomes increasingly apparent that
those who can access and organize information are the ones who are empowered
to make informed decisions.
Information access is a
democratic skill and an important one for media education.
If students internalize
the key concept of media literacy--that all media information is carefully
manufactured--then they must be able to find information they can use
that helps to break their dependency on media-generated sources. Computer
education, telecommunications and old-fashioned library research skills
are an essential adjunct to any media literacy curriculum.
Teachers in media production
classes have much to share with media resource teachers, librarians,
computer teachers, social studies teachers, language arts teachers,
and artists. All of these teachers have common goals and only need to
find ways to bridge the arbitrary divisions between subjects to teach
media literacy across the curriculum.
In order for media education
to really move forward in U.S. schools, specific variables must be in
place: Pre-service teacher training; in-service training; classroom
resources; and teacher support.
Of these, classroom resources
are the easiest step to implement. There are existing texts and lessons,
especially at the secondary level, and teachers can easily adapt those
materials developed outside the country until they can make their own.
Pre-service teacher training
is essential for implementation of media education and there are university
programs across the country which bridge mass communications and education
departments. Even so, the arbitrary division of subjects into discreet
fields of study is entrenched at every level of education--nowhere more
so than in pre-service teacher training. This division encourages more
competition than cooperation between university departments as they
vie for students and their part of the shrinking funding pie. This causes
people to dismiss media education (and critical thinking) by saying
that it does not "hook into the curriculum."
This way of thinking about
narrow fields of study is slowly changing. One hopeful area is in the
field of Educational Technology which is a natural bridge for media
and education. Also, many younger teachers-in-training came of age in
a saturated media environment. They are demanding to know more and more
about media in the course of their university education.
Strategies for Media Literacy
conducts in-service workshops across the country and they have been
enthusiastically received by teachers who are eager to learn methods
to address media in the classroom. Others learn from similar community-based
groups, media arts centers and from each other. But there need to be
more opportunity for teachers to learn about media and for in-service
workshops to be successful, teachers must have time set aside to attend
them, preferably paid time. This only happens when media education is
seen as a priority by administrators and teachers who see media education
as a basic element of the curriculum.
Media education cannot
go forth without support from administrators who must earmark money
and time and who are left to deal with scheduling changes. Teacher support
also means support from the community. Parents and businesses must "buy
in" and think that media education is important. Teacher support also
means teachers of media supporting each other. Sharing ideas and resources
through forums like local study groups, the newsletter of the National
Telemedia Council, gophers and listservs are places to start.
The most successful programs
in North American have other "finishing touches" which deal more with
matters of style and educational philosophy than with actual organization.
These include: a student-centered classroom; a cooperative classroom;
teacher-generated (not top-down!) frameworks; student self-evaluation;
and community outreach.
All of these variables
are centered on the goals of student learning in a democratic classroom
where students are given responsibility and respect. They also imply
teacher autonomy in the decisions made for the classroom. The ideal
programs might have a video or print product for evaluation, but the
culminating experience is not a standardized test. Judgment on a project's
merit is best done by the student, or by a committee of teachers.
And the community is a
partner. Student projects are seen in a broader forum and the community
gives students feedback about their work. Businesses donate money, equipment
In the United States, media
education has a long way to go, but there's hope on the horizon. Over
the years, we've seen other media education efforts fall apart.
The critical viewing curriculum
in the '70s and the computer literacy push in the '80s are two cases
in point. But media education is inevitable. It's happening at the grassroots
level and teachers are beginning to find each other to create the critical
mass we need to push it forward. This blueprint is a place to start
and is meant to be changed, because it's vital to any implementation
of media education that teachers own and direct and tailor the course
of study. The important part is that we take that step and move media
education from theory into implementation.
This article first appeared
in Strategies Quarterly (Summer 1992). Reprinted permission of author.
Copyright 1992 Kathleen Tyner.