Answering the Seven Great Debates

Early in the process of exploring media literacy, I blogged about Hobbs’ article on the seven great debates in media literacy. As I continue to read and explore and think about the next steps in my learning, I want to take a minute to answer the debates as my answers will help determine what my media literacy curriculum would look like.

1. Should media literacy education aim to protect children and young people from negative media influences? No…but it should help children learn to protect themselves from potential negative media influences. But there are lots of positive media influences out there, too, and we have to be careful about assuming that video games and comic books and television are always necessarily negative just because they aren’t what we grew up with.

2. Should media production be an essential feature of media literacy education? I’m not sure about “essential” but I do think students should be introduced to these tools, particularly since they are so widely available.  If students don’t have a chance to publish themselves, they only get a theoretical notion of media and their roles in it.
3. Should media literacy focus on popular cultural texts? Yes, most definitely. That doesn’t mean we can’t read some Shakespeare and Chaucer but when I taught high school English there wasn’t anything contemporary in the curriculum. In my master’s thesis, I argued for including newspapers and magazines in the English curriculum, along with “real-world” writing assignments.

4. Should media literacy have a more explicit political and ideological agenda? This is stickier but I have to say no. It should have a general political and ideological agenda and that is to help students recognize more explicit political and ideological agendas. Hobbs calls it pluralism and suggests that “this argument invites teachers to maximize the students’ potential for discovery and the realization of personal, social or political action without pushing a specific agenda on students” (p. 23).

5. Should media literacy be focused on school-based K-12 educational enviroments?  Hobbs and others believe that because of its conservative nature, school may not be the best place to teach media literacy.  Certainly, the political issues would be difficult to address other than in a very general way.  Yet, I remember the kid in the laundromat in Colonial Wiliamsburg’s 2005 commercial.  His education led to activism.  And there are plenty of examples of student activists out there.  Check out the Edutopia site to find lots of stories of students doing work in their classrooms that has implications for the outside world.  But trying to do this in the supposedly politically neutral classroom can be tough.  I think the approach–and this is what my curriculum would address–is to have teachers incorporate media literacy in a way that makes sense to their content.  For instance, the famous engraving of the Boston Massacre which is not a completely accurate depiction of the event would be a good starting point for a history teacher.

6. Should media literacy be taught as a specialist subject or integrated within the context of existing subjects?  Considering the current disciplinary arrangement of subject matter in PK-16 environments, I believe integration is the best choice.  However, if taught as a specialist subject, media literacy, which will draw on cross-disciplinary topics, could be a force for a move to a post-disciplinary educational environment.

7. Should media literacy initiatives be supported financially by media organizations?  I think the organizations can certainly be helpful in terms of learning about production and distribution of media.  I agree with those who feel that these organizations have a social responsibility to help people understand how the news is made, who makes decisions about what is shown on television, and how viewers can be more actively involved.  But I think in terms of providing curriculum for use in the classroom, it is more appropriate for educators to develop lessons that integrate with their content areas.

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