Why does the U.S. lack a media literacy focus in public education?

Our lives are dominated by the media. They influence all aspects of our lives such as telling us how to dress, eat, what to believe, and how we are supposed to behave. People are influenced by multiple forms of media starting at a very young age. Cell phones, television, Internet, and advertising are among the many forms of media influence.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average child in the United States spends more than 7.5 hours a day, watching TV or movies, using cell phones or computers, and playing video games (KFF, 2010). It is estimated that on average, a child will see around 40,000 ads on television (KFF, 2004).

Most of the advertisements targeted at children promote foods such as candy, soda and snacks (KFF, 2004). Research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children between 8 and 12 years of age are exposed to an average of 21 food ads a day, which equals to about 7,600 ads a year. Teenagers are exposed to an average of 17 food ads a year, which equals to about 6,000 ads a year. Among all food ads targeting children and teenagers, 34 percent focuses on taste appeal (KFF, 2007).

This is problematic because the number of obese children and teens in the United States tripled over the past 30 years (CDC, 2011). Researchers argue that food advertisements contribute to unhealthy food choices and weight gain and to the misconceptions about the health benefits of certain foods (KFF, 2004).

In “Why Media Literacy Matters – Obesity in America”, I discussed how media literacy programs can be implemented to help fight obesity.

Health is just one of many concerns regarding media influence.

While the media does have a powerful influence, people can take charge of their lives by understanding how the media works and knowing how they are affected.

Some might wonder if the media has become a source of propaganda. Proponents will argue about the merits of media and technology.

There are truths to both sides but it is important realize that the media does impact our daily lives in negative ways. Several years ago, I discussed  how the media perpetuates stereotypes in society. I also wrote several articles about the importance of ethics in journalism. Quality Journalism. Journalism and Ethics, Pt 1. Part 2.

The media has the ability to influence and change how we perceive the world.

On July 23, I reminded people on Facebook and Twitter about the importance of fact checking. People need to check their sources before they post something on social media.

Back in 2012, after Hurricane Sandy hit, I wrote about why people needed to be extra careful about what they share on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Especially during times of crises as false information can cause panic. I wrote:

It is easy to spread false information on social media. One might think that they are doing something good and helping people by sharing information. While that individual might have good intentions, this accident only harms the public.

Remember the importance of fact checking. Check your sources before you post. Some sites resemble news but they are satire. There have been several posts today that stirred up unnecessary commotion and fear. Check your sources, double check if necessary! This is the importance of media literacy.

Earlier this week, Miami Herald reporter Christina Viega, wrote about how teenagers could text and tweet but probably could not choose reliable sources from their search results.

This is a problem that needs to be resolved and media literacy education is the answer. It will empower people by giving them the ability to make their own decisions.

Many countries around the world have media literacy as part of their primary and secondary education system.

In Canada, there is an annual media literacy event called “Media Literacy Week” that takes place in November. The event, co-led by MediaSmarts and the Canadian Teacher’s Federation focuses on the importance of media literacy in education. Other countries such as Sweden, Finland, and the United Kingdom have some sort of media literacy education.

According to the publication, “Media Education in Four EU Countires: Common Problems and Possible Solutions”, research shows that between 70 and 80 percent of students receive some sort of media training in primary and secondary schools (Kennisnet Foundation, 2013).

Why is there a lack of focus on media literacy in the United States?

One of the problems is that many people assume since they (both adults and children) already know how to use digital technology, they do not need instruction on how to use social media resources. They are “digital natives” after all.

Common Core is a start and I discuss the merits in “Media literacy and Common Core Standards” but it is not enough to fix the problem. Students are not going to develop critical thinking skills overnight. Simply having the standards does not mean students will be capable of applying them and critically analyzing information.

There needs to be more emphasize on helping students learn to analyze information and think critically by making connections to prior knowledge.

Media literacy education is a great example of why the constructivist learning theory is effective as it shows students that learning and having fun do not have to be separate. It gives them a chance to connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world, so they can make sense of what they are learning.

I taught 7th grade remedial students to write journalism leads and effective journalistic tweets. Their knowledge of social media and texting helped them learn and use the new skills by applying what they already knew. Their interest in social media helped motivate them and instill a desire to learn.

Media literacy needs to be applied to all content areas, not just English Language Arts and Social Studies.

Since Common Core is not going anyway anytime soon, we need to examine ways to promote media literacy education. Media literacy can be integrated into all content areas at every grade level and can be integrated with the Common Core Standards. Media literacy will provide students with a hand-on learning experience that promotes collaboration, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and cultural competency. These are the 5 C’s of the Common Core and are designed to help students be successful outside of the classroom.

I have written about the correlation between media literacy, citizenship, and democracy. As I wrote in “Why Media Literacy Matters – Democratic Values”:

People need to learn how to make their own choices. They need to learn how to think for themselves. This is where media literacy comes in. Media literacy is about empowerment, critical thinking, participation.

With the Internet, people have access to vast amounts of information. But having information and being informed are two completely different things.

Media literacy prepares us to fully participate as citizens in a world dominated by media messages.

 


References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Childhood Obesity Facts. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm

Kaiser Family Foundation (2010). Daily media use among children and teens up dramatically from five years ago. Retrieved from http://www.kff.org/entmedia/entmedia012010nr.cfm

Kaiser Family Foundation. (2007). Food For Thought. Menlo Park, CA: Author.

Kaiser Family Foundation. (2004). Role of Media in Childhood Obesity. Menlo Park, CA: Author.

Kennisnet Foundation. (2013). Media Education in Four EU Countires: Common Problems and Possible Solutions.  Retrieved from: http://www.kennisnet.nl/fileadmin/contentelementen/kennisnet/Dossier_mediawijsheid/Publicaties/rapport_media_onderwijs_EU.pdf

Why kindergarteners need storytime

The Oregonian recently published an online op-ed column with the following headline: Kindergarten test results a ‘sobering snapshot’.

Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss wrote an article about the headline entitled, “A very scary headline about kindergarteners”. In her article, she asks two important questions – what could be sobering about these test results and what kind of tests are they giving to kindergarteners?

According to Strauss, in September 2013, every kindergarten student at a public school in Oregon was required to take a readiness exam in September 2013 to see how many letters, numbers, and sounds they knew.

There has been a push to turn kindergarten into the new “first grade”.

Researchers say Kindergarten is the New First Grade.

This focus on testing and accountability is problematic because children need to be given time to learn at their own speed. People, especially children learn in different ways. It is important for children to understand what they are learning and for them to want to learn. If they are not motivated about learning, they will not be able to succeed in school.

Tom Hobson, a preschool teacher and author in Seattle, Washington, calls the Common Core education standards, child abuse.

Hobson stresses an important point on his blog – whatever happened to storytime?

Stories are how people learn, especially young children.

For thousands of years, stories have been the primary method of teaching.

On November 13, 2009, at the Using Drama in Language Learning Workshop at SOAS, University of London, Mario Rinvolucri delivered a keynote presentation that stressed storytelling as the oldest language teaching technique.

Storytelling: The Oldest Language Teaching Technique

Storytime plays an important role in introducing children to books, which can help foster a desire to read. But more importantly, storytelling promotes creativity, a foundation for a successful future.

In previous blogs, I wrote about the important role that creativity plays in education and in the workplace.

I stressed in Tabletop roleplaying games such as D&D can help people prepare for their adventures in life:

Life is an adventure that requires creativity and imagination, both of which are important tools that help people become successful in life.

Storytelling promotes creativity and helps children develop critical thinking skills.

Without storytime, young children will be denied the opportunity to use their imagination to explore new ideas and opportunities.

Importance of creativity in education

“Creativity is the New Literacy”. That is what Chase Jarvis, a world-renowned photographer told the crowd at GeekWire Summit 2013.

Jarvis stressed that as a culture we need to value creativity. He also said that creativity could solve all of humanity’s fundamental problems.

It is crucial for us to have an education system that fosters creativity.

Creativity is not limited to just actors, artists, musicians, etc. It even plays an important role in business.

Like Jarvis said, “Whether you are building a business or an iPhone app, creativity is the thing that drives what we do.”

Creativity is the mental and social process used to generate ideas and concepts. In other words, creativity is about innovation.

Companies such as Google and Pixar are known for creativity and innovation and for their unique workplaces (Nhan, 2012).

Creativity sometimes is not recognized or even possible without support from others (Csikszentimihalyi, 1996).

This is another reason why educators need to encourage creativity.

Sir Ken Robinson has spoken twice at TED about how schools kill creativity. He explained that there are three major reasons:

First, they promote standardization and a narrow view of intelligence when human talents are diverse and personal. Second, they promote compliance when cultural progress and achievement depend on the cultivation of imagination and creativity. Third, they are linear and rigid when the course of each human life, including yours, is organic and largely unpredictable.

Many school districts across the country have been adopting the Common Core education standards, which is President Obama’s replacement for No Child Left Behind. The Common Core provides new national standards for core subjects such as reading, writing, and math.

Ashley Lauren Samsa believes that in many ways, the Common Core is a great thing for both teachers and students. She explains that with the focus no long being on content, educators can teach whatever they want in their classroom as long as students are taught to read, write, and think critically. However, she is concerned that with Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction texts, technology, and career skills, teachers might forget about creativity.

The advocates of the Common Core standards say that we need Common Core otherwise students will not be prepared for college or a career

According to Diane Ravitch, there is no evidence that these standards will prepare students for careers because there is nothing in them that has any relationship to careers.

Ravitch stresses that schools across the nation are suffering from budget cuts. This means less time and resources for subjects like arts, physical education, and other subjects, which are crucial for a real education.

These programs are essential to promoting creativity.

As I stressed earlier, creativity is about innovation and plays an important role in business.

In a previous blog, I talked about how interactive games and tabletop roleplaying games can be used as a teaching tool to promote storytelling and foster creativity and learning. I mentioned how a school in Demark used roleplaying as a teaching method for all academic subjects.

I wrote in Interactive games and tabletop roleplaying games as a teaching tool:

Roleplaying and storytelling can be used to motivate students and encourage them to want to learn. These games are effective because students engage in learning more when they are actively participating and it is important to work with their interests.

The constructivist learning theory is the best way to encourage creativity in the classroom. According to Gabler and Schroeder (2002), the theory is about providing students with ways to connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world; it focuses on how students can create meaning in what they are learning.

Every student has a different style of learning but an effective strategy to motivate all students is to focus on how students can create meaning in what they are learning. By incorporating the constructivist learning theory into the curriculum, educators can help students learn beyond the classroom experience and encourage creativity.

In Journalism is not dead, importance of storytelling, I discuss the importance of media literacy and how a journalism education teaches people how to become better storytellers. I stressed that we need to emphasize the importance of journalism and photography as forms of storytelling.

Teachers need to make sure that their classrooms emphasize creativity and critical thinking skills.

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References

Csikszentimihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Gabler, I.C. and Schroeder, M. (2002). Constructivist Methods for the Secondary Classroom. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Manders, D. (2013, September 16). “Creativity is the New Literacy” – Chase Jarvis Stirs up the Crowd at GeekWire Summit 2013. Flip the Media. Retrieved from http://flipthemedia.com/2013/09/creativity-is-the-new-literacy-chase-jarvis-stirs-up-the-crowd-at-geekwire-summit-2013/

Nhan, D. (2012, March 6). How a creative work environment encourages more risk – and more rewards. SmartBlogs. Retrieved from http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2012/03/06/how-a-creative-work-environment-encourages-more-risk-and-more-rewards/

Ravitch, D. (2013, August 24). The Biggest Fallacy of Common Core Standards: No Evidence [Blog] Retrieved from http://dianeravitch.net/2013/08/24/the-biggest-fallacy-of-the-common-core-standards-no-evidence/

Robinson, K. (2012, December 7). Do Schools Kill Creativity. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sir-ken-robinson/do-schools-kill-creativity_b_2252942.html

Samsa, A.L. (2013, September 3). I Welcome Common Core education standards, but let’s not forget creativity. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/03/common-core-national-education-standards

Tackling Racism

Everybody is a little racist.

Avenue Q, an American satirical musical, made a good point about how “everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes”. The show is best defined as an adult version of Sesame Street. It addresses issues associated with entering adulthood.

One of the messages presented in the musical is that even though everyone might be a little racist, it does not mean they go around committing hate crimes.

Racism does not always mean we wish to harm someone who is different. It can be as subtle as a fleeting thought or assumption.

Racism is a complex issue and everyone is biased in one way or another.

It is our human nature to identify more with people who are like ourselves. People have a preference for the familiar.

However, we must not use “human nature” to dismiss it as not being problematic. Having preconceptions based on how people appear may not cause any immediate harm, but when this is compounded over time and by everyone in society, it can lead to much greater harm.

Admitting racism is not easy but it is an important step in tackling the issue.

The problem will never go away as long as we neglect to acknowledge it in both society and within ourselves.

This issue is especially important as evident with recent events.

Tim Wise, an American anti-racism activist and author, posted a reaction to the Zimmerman verdict. In a video posted on July 19, he asks his audience to consider an important question: “Does having black friends mean you’re free from racial bias?”

The answer is no. As stressed in the first sentence, everybody is a little racist.

It is also crucial that people understand the role the media plays.

According to Rem Rieder of USA Today, the media played a role in the Zimmerman case that cannot be ignored. Rieder suggested in this case, the media went after the best story rather than the truth.

The media perpetuates stereotypes. Therefore is of upmost importance for people to learn to understand the complex messages presented by the media.

In a previous blog, Why Media Literacy Matters – Stereotypes, I discuss how photographs, film and video are used to perpetuate stereotypes. I explained how these images are used to present people of other races as “other” and establish them as inferior.

Such media messages perpetuate the idea of “us versus them”.

People need to be aware of how media messages influence them. They need to learn how to analyze those messages so they are not misled by false information.

People need to understand the importance of being media literate.

There needs to be a push for media literacy education.

It will help minimize the harm.

Integrating media literacy into all content areas

Media literacy education is about teaching people to become critical thinkers and effective communicators.

One of the best ways to incorporate media literacy education into the classroom is through constructivism, a theory that focuses on learning beyond the classroom experience.

According to Gabler and Schroeder (2002), the theory is about providing students with ways to connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world; it focuses on how students can create meaning in what they are learning.

By bringing media into the classroom, students can be given the opportunity to see the subject from a different perspective. For example, photojournalism is one of the many tools of the media that can potentially help encourage creativity among the students and show them that something fun can have a powerful effect on society.

Constructivist teaching gives teachers a chance to teach lessons that are student-centered and gives students a chance to be expressive and collaborative (Gabler and Schroeder, 2002).

Project Look Sharp, a media literacy initiative at Ithaca College published a guide in 2008 to help educators of all subjects and grade levels integrate media literacy into their curriculum.

12 Basic Ways to Integrate Media Literacy and Critical Thinking into Any Curriculum, by Cyndy Scheibe and Faith Rogow, explains that it is more effective for educators to integrate media literacy into their curriculum than teaching it as a stand alone topic.

The 12 Basic Ways to Integrate Media Literacy (Scheibe and Rogow, 2008) are:

  1. Practice general observation, critical thinking, analysis, perspective-taking and communication skills.
  2. Stimulate interest in a new topic.
  3. Identify how students’ prior ideas about a topic have been influenced by media messages.
  4. Use media as a standard pedagogical tool.
  5. Identifying sources for erroneous beliefs about a topic.
  6. Develop an awareness of issues of credibility and perspective.
  7. Compare the ways different media present information about a topic.
  8. Analyze the effect that specific media have had on a particular issue or topic across different cultures and/or historically.
  9. Build and practice specific curricular skills.
  10. Facilitate use of a range of media formats to express students’ opinions and illustrate their understanding of the world.
  11. Use media as assessment tools.
  12. Connect students to the community and work toward positive change

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References

Scheibe, C. and Rogow, F. (2008). “12 Basic Ways to Integrate Media Literacy and Critical Thinking into Any Curriculum”. Project Look Sharp. Ithaca College.

Gabler, I.C. and Schroeder, M. (2002). Constructivist Methods for the Secondary Classroom. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Why Media Literacy Matters – Stereotypes

Information comes from all over the world through powerful images.

Photography, video and film can perpetuate stereotypes.

Stereotypes can manipulate people’s thoughts and feelings, cause rage, unreason and even persecution (Shaheen, 2009)

Misrepresentations of immigrants and certain minority groups in the media play a significant role in shaping the public attitudes and opin­ions of people (Martens, 2010), which further perpetuate the stereotypes in society.

Immigrants and certain minority groups are often viewed as dangerous, a nuisance or as individuals in need of the country’s assistance. These stereotypes have been accepted by society as the norm.

These messages perpetuate the idea of “us versus them”.

These negative stereotypes presented by the media portray people of other races and cultures as “other” and establish them as inferior.

The media consistently portray racial minorities in stereotypical roles and although not all stereotypes are negative, even benign ones could encourage prejudice and benevolent feelings that are just as problematic (Ramasubramanian and Oliver, 2007).

Therefore, people need to be aware of how the media manipulates their beliefs.

People need to learn how to analyze media messages so that they are not misled by false information.

Media literacy education can help minimize the harm.

Media literacy teaches people the critical thinking skills that are necessary for understanding the complex messages presented by the media.

Researchers have concluded that if people practice and put in a conscious effort to negate stereotypical associations, they could reduce prejudice (Ramasubramanian and Oliver, 2007).

Media literacy training can help people see how news media often serve to rationalize existing social norms and expectations (Ramasubramanian, 2007).

People will then be more aware of how the media shapes social reality and will be less likely influenced by negative stereotypes.

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References

Martens, H. (2010).Evaluating Media Literacy Education: Concepts, Theories and Future Directions. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 2(1), 1-22.

Ramasubramanian, S. (2007). Media-Based Strategies to Reduce Racial Stereotypes Activated by News Stories. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 84(2), 249-264.

Ramasubramanian, S. and Oliver, M.B. (2007). Activating and Suppressing Hostile and Benevolent Racism: Evidence for Comparative Media Stereotyping. Media Psychology, 9, 623-646.

Shaheen, J. (2009). Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press. Preface and Introduction. 

Why Media Literacy Matters – Obesity in America

Have you noticed that on the cover of nearly every issue of Woman’s World magazine there is a statement about weight loss and images of tasty desserts?Woman's World magazine

This is an example of what social psychologist Karen Dill, Ph.D., defines as bipolar food messaging.

Woman’s World magazine is not the only publication featuring “quick fix” weight loss solutions along with images of desserts. According to Dill (n.d), five out of seven popular women’s magazines (Family Circle, First for Women, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s World and Woman’s Day) presented bipolar food messages. Ladies’ Home Journal and Redbook were the two magazines that did not.

This is a major problem that people need to be aware of.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than one-third (35.7%) of American adults are overweight or obese.

The CDC also reported that more than one third of children and adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese.

People are considered to be obese if they have a body mass index (BMI) above 30. Those with a BMI between 25 to 29.9 are considered to be overweight.

According to an article published by Reuters, the CDC found that obesity rates remained unchanged between 2008 and 2010.

It is only going to get worse. Much worse.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2011), studies have shown that obese children between 10-13 years of age have an 80 percent chance of becoming obese as adults.

It is predicted that half of American adults will be obese by 2030 (Begley, 2012).

There are many health risks associated with obesity such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, respiratory problems and death.

Research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children between 8 and 12 years of age are exposed to an average of 21 food ads a day, which equals to about 7,600 ads a year. Teenagers are exposed to an average of 17 food ads a year, which equals to about 6,000 ads a year. Among all food ads targeting children and teenagers, 34 percent focuses on taste appeal (KFF, 2007).

Think about what those numbers mean for an adult. Think about the number of ads someone will have been exposed to by the time they reach adulthood.

Media literacy programs can be implemented to help fight obesity.

People need to recognize how media messages affect them. It is important for people to understand how these messages can influence their choices of food, causing weight gain and other health problems.

Media literacy skills will help people acquire the skills to evaluate media messages and make informed decisions about their food purchases.

These programs will help people develop a greater sense of self-efficacy.

People will then have a better understanding of why they choose to eat the foods they do.

References 

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2011). Obesity in Children and Teens. Facts for Families. 79(3/11). 

Begley, S. (2012, September 18). Fat and getting fatter: U.S. obesity rates to soar by 2030. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/18/us-obesity-us-idUSBRE88H0RA20120918 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Childhood Obesity Facts. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm

Dill, K. (n.d). Eat Cake and Lose Weight: Bipolar Food Messaging in Woman’s Worldand Other Popular Women’s Magazines. Retrieved from http://drkarendill.wordpress.com/scholarship/vita-and-publications/

Kaiser Family Foundation. (2007). Food For Thought. Menlo Park, CA: Author.