Media Literacy: A Definition… and More

Media Literacy: A Definition… and More

“Media Literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate and create messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”

This definition comes from the Center for Media Literacy.  While it is based on a  more succinct definition from the Aspen Institute (the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create messages), it adds something about why we should include it:  because being able to interact intelligently with media is a skill required for active citizenship.  Yet, the curriculum offered by the Center seems to be more about critical media skills, looking for messages behind the media.  I don’t have a problem with that, but I guess I have had this sense of paradox throughout the summer…we are critical of the media and yet do almost nothing about it.  It’s the essential debate: are we preparing students to live in the current world and trying to educate them so they can change the media landscape.

What would that new landscape look like?  A more unbiased media?  Yet, announced bias seems to be more and more prevalant.  For instance, since I’m stuck in a hotel room all week, I’ve been watching a lot of CNN.  Yesterday, they interviewed Debbie Schlussel, who was identified as a conservative commentator.  At her blog, she self-identifies as a “conservative political commentator, radio talk show host, columnist, and attorney.”  She is anti-Muslim and evidently routinely receives hate mail from those she insults on television and radio.  It seems that she appears mostly on conservative television shows or on mainstream media when they want a more controversial guest.

So, where does she fit in a media literacy curriculum?  I think she fits two places: as an example of the kind of politically biased commentators who seem to rampant on the web and as an example of the kind of uncivil discourse that has also become rampant.  While I certainly don’t condone hate mail, I have to suggest that if Schlussel were a bit more moderate in her comments, she might be able to further a real dialog rather than being part of brawls that lead to headlines like this: “SMACKDOWN!: Listen to Me Kick the Butt of Jimmy Carter Advisor/Interpol Agent on Hezbollah & Israel.”  While this kind of negative exchange may garner higher ratings as news programs try to be the most vehement in order to break through the wide field of other programs, it just makes me angry.  Here’s the piece of the media that I would like to see changed so I think this is the piece I would really work on in a media curriculum.


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