The Seven Great Debates

Hobbs, R. (1998). The seven great debates in the media literacy movement. Journal of Communication, 48(1), 16-32.

Johnson, S. (2005). Everything bad is good for you. New York: Riverhead Books. 

Definition:  Hobbs uses Aufderheide's 1993 definition of media literacy and then expands on it: "It is a term used by a growing number of scholars and educators to refer to the process of critically analyzing and learning to create one's own messages in print, audio, video, and multimedia" (p. 16).  I was reminded of a statistic from the Pew Internet and American Life Project: Some 57% of teens have created some kind of content on the Internet from a webpage to a video to a blog.  And rather than helping the teens figure out how to do this type of creation safely and creatively, many schools are simply banning it.  Some are even attempting to punish students for the things they produce outside of school.  

Seven Great Debates:

Hobbs points out that media literacy has a "broad definition and range of application" (p. 16).  This diversity can cause disagreement and thus the 7 great debates:

1. Should media literacy education aim to protext children and young people from negative media literacy? Hobbs suggests that this notion of protection may be simply rhetorical, a reaction to "the inability of adults to control children's access to the media" (p. 19).  Bazalgette says that the assumption is that students who are taught media literacy won't be taken in by the manipulations of the media: "Media education, in this scenario, is the pedagogic equivalent of a tetanus shot" (quoted in Hobbs, p. 19). Hobbs goes on to say, "Many teachers at both the K-12 and university levels have found that students are unresponsive to the idea that they are helpless victims of media influence who need to be rescued fromt he excesses and evils of their interest in popular culture" (p. 19). In fact, in his recent book Everything Bad is Good for You, Stephen Johnson makes the argument that "popular culture has, on average, grown more complex and intellectually challenging over the past thirty years" (p. xiii).  Indeed, the digital natives who have grown up in the shadow of the Internet and video games expect much more from their media than ever before.  Tom Friedman tells the story of the video gamer who prefers to play Koby Bryant in the NBA video game than watch Koby Bryant play "real" basketball because when he plays Koby, he can make Koby pass, something he evidently doesn't do all that much for real.

2. Should media production be an essential feature of media literacy education?  One quick note here that shows the changing times.  Hobbs writes about the limitations of video production, "For example, video and multimedia production often requires more equipment, classroom time, personnel, and teacher training than is available in many schools" (p. 20).  The availability of sophisticated but easy to use software such as iMovie allows almost anyone to create video using a laptop and a camera.

3. Should media literacy focus on popular culture texts?  In his media and society courses, Jacobs used what he called "strange texts" including the film Space Traders and an episode of The X-Files. 

4. Should media literacy have a more explicit political and ideological agenda?  Lessig says we have a "second best" world; would making media literacy more political lead towards a first rate world?  In his classroom, Jacobs wanted to create a true democracy. When media literacy focuses on popular culture in which students are much more expert than teachers, it can bring about new kinds of classroom environments.  The problem is that both liberals and conservatives have ideas about media literacy and teachers do not see themselves as forces for change: "Instead, teacher generally value the concept of promoting students' critical autonomy, which is the process of internalizing the tools of self-reflection, critical analysis, and communication for one's own purposes and motives.  The pluralism that underlies this argument invites teachers to maximize the students' potential for discovery and the realizaiton of personal, social, or political action without pushing a specific agenda on students" (p. 23).  Since the teacher often chooses the texts, however, some form of agenda may creep in with the media itself.

5. Should media literacy be focused on school-based K-12 educational environments?  Hobbs questions whether schools could really change in the radical ways demanded by media literacy: "For example, instead of reading eight classic novels in the 10th grade, how many communities will accept the practice of students reading four books, studying two filsm, and analyzing a newsmagazine and a website" (p. 24).

6. Should media literacy be taught as a specialist subject or integrated within the context of existing subjects?  I think it gets taught as a specialist subject because the content area teachers don't want to make the necessary changes to successfully integrate media literacy into their courses. 

7. Should media literacy initiatives by supported financially by media organizations? The worry here is that media organizations may not have a stake in looking at ways to really critically analyze what they are doing: "Some believe that media organizations are effectively taking the antimedia stand out of the media literacy movement to serve their own goals, co-opting the media literacy movement and softening it to make sure their public criticism of the media never gets too loud, abrasive, or strident" (p. 26).


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