September 28, 2016

Mind Over Media: Media literacy, the answer to everything?

I am the last student to sign up for the media literacy program here at Webster University. The major is currently not available for incoming students, and the only other student studying that major graduates this year.

There’s something quite existential about that, isn’t there?  I suppose I should be having some sort of mental breakdown, but I’m not.
In fact, I feel quite the opposite. I believe in media literacy as the immediate future of education in our digital landscape.
In case you don’t know, media literacy focuses on implementing critical thinking skills through the lens of the media.

A good media literacy program would give students the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and communicate information through different media.
Given that we now live in a digital culture, this seems to be a natural direction in which education should evolve in America — not only at a college level, but starting in grade school.

According to a study conducted by Bridgewater University, 90 percent of middle school students say their phones have internet access.
This means they have instant access to an immense number of videos, images, and other types of media with no learned skills on how to decode their messages.  To understand how easily media can manipulate a young consumer, I think of McDonald’s and other fast food chains that target children. In some countries like England, this type of advertising is illegal. Here in the States, it’s often defended by the advertisers claim to free speech.
If we applied media literacy concepts to commercials featuring Ronald McDonald in a classroom setting, children would become aware of how advertisers aim to manipulate them.

After all, if it aims to shape the way children think, then they can be taught to see past these media production tactics.
If kids understood why toys and clowns were prominent parts of the ads, the advertisers’ manipulation tactics would have less success.
I often refer to media literacy as the answer to everything. It is definitely a way of bypassing the ethics debate of advertising to children. It’s essential to combating our digital culture, and being responsible media consumers. Everyone should have access to this form of education.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recently stated that media literacy is a human right.  In many countries like Canada, England, and Australia, students are first exposed to this subject in grade school.
Recently, New York schools announced they are abandoning the anti-drug programs of the past and will be using media literacy in their grade schools for anti-smoking education.

Here in America there are only a handful of colleges that have media literacy majors for undergrads.  Although the undergrad degree is no longer available, Webster is still one of the top schools for those seeking a masters degree in media literacy. In fact, Webster Professor Art Silverblatt has written one of the most widely used textbooks in media literacy education. His book, “Media Literacy: Keys to Interpreting Media Messages” is used internationally.
Silverblatt uses his textbook to teach media literacy to many undergrads at Webster, as it is a requirement for most communications majors.
I hope we see the major return to Webster so others can study the medium. Regardless, I think it needs to be in all of  America’s school systems.

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