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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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February092007

Media Literacy as a Family Value

Right now I’m at an annual gathering of news executives and Web 2.0 activists in Miami, listening to speaker after speaker talking about the ever-changing media landscape. Even with all of these luminaries extolling the Internet on the conference stage, it was a dinner conversation over the role families play in fostering media literacy that got me thinking more than anything else here.

This is the second time I’ve attended the We Media conference, a gathering of some of the most interesting people involved in mainstream media and citizen journalism. There aren’t many people involved in education here, except for the good folks from Education Week; I also got the chance to finally meet my fellow PBS blogger Mark Glaser face-to-face for the first time.

Despite the lack of teachers here, I’m finding it hard to get through any particular hour of the event without someone mentioning the importance of media literacy. That should come as no surprise, since many of the people here are what you might call indirect media literacy activists, spending their time and resources creating tools and services that allow the public to create content relevant to their communities.

The opening night of the conference, I went to dinner with a group of several dozen bloggers. It was an entertaining affair, as is often the case when bloggers get together over mojitos and cupcakes. (I swear I’m not making this up.) I was fortunate enough to sit at a particularly engaging table that included NYU professor Jay Rosen and Slashdot editor Robin “Roblimo” Miller, among others. But the intellectual highlight of the evening was talking with blogger Tish Grier. She and I bump into each other a lot at Web 2.0 conferences, and we never have a shortage of things to talk about. On this particular evening, we were swapping family stories - life growing up, our parents and grandparents, and so on. As we chatted, we discovered something we both had in common: we were both raised in families where media literacy was encouraged at a very young age.

Tish recounts part of the conversation in a blog post:

My story: when I was 7, my Dad (a WWII vet with a third-grade education)taught me to read a newspaper. He also taught me to take in tv news broadcasts, and to listen to the different interpretations of the different broadcasters. He believed that an informed opinion on issues could only come from following different reports and perspectives.

My own story was eerily similar. Thinking back on my earliest memory involving reading, it occurred to me that it was an image of me and my brother reading a newspaper. I couldn’t have been more than six at the time. Other memories popped into my head; sure, I had favorite children’s books just like any other kid, but I kept recalling images of looking at newspapers. That, and watching TV news - specifically, coverage of the Watergate hearings and the 1976 presidential election. The early 70s were a time of political tumult, when the American public found itself questioning its leaders time and time again. That same skepticism over what is true in the media and what isn’t was instilled in me at a very young age. It wasn’t a matter of being taught to be suspicious of all the media I consumed. Instead, I was taught to explore the story behind the story, trying to get at the heart of what was being said, and why. My parents never called it media literacy; I probably didn’t hear the term until 20 years later. But I have no doubt in my mind that was exactly what I was being taught.

Back to Tish’s blog post:

Andy and I thought that perhaps the best media literacy education actually begins in the home. Media habits, like many other habits, might come from our parents. It’s the way both Andy and I were taught as children to consume media with the intention to understand, not re-enforce a preconceived notion-that has made us savvy media participants, not passive media consumers. Inquisitive minds, a passion for perspective and and a desire to participate in what we had been engaged with since childhood is what motivated us to become a part of media culture-writing and communicating with others through our blogs-not stand apart from it.

All of this got us thinking about whether our childhood experiences were common, particularly among bloggers, citizen journalists and others who have embraced Web 2.0 culture. Of course, I would imagine that few people actually had their parents sit down with them at a young age and say, “Honey, it’s time we had a talk about media literacy.” Many of us learned how to read because of our parents, and probably picked up some media literacy skills along the way. What I’m wondering, though, is how many people had their families actively encourage it in some form or another? If you conducted an informal poll of education bloggers or teachers who have embraced Web 2.0 tools, would you find that media literacy was instilled in them as a “family value”?

My guess is that Tish and I aren’t alone. What about you? For those of you who actively participate in the Web 2.0 world, would you say that media literacy was something you gained through your early upbringing? And what about those of you who have raised a digital native of your own - or are just beginning to raise one, like I am - do you find it important to instill media literacy in your own children at a young age? I’m guessing the answer will be yes from a lot of people. Thoughts, anyone? -andy

Filed under : Blogging, Events, People

Responses

I am an educator and a trained school librarian. I tend to lurk on this and a few other library/education related blogs. I think what you and Tish are saying is very true. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. My upbringing included informal lessons in media literacy, too. My parents would explain to my brothers and me how to see through newspaper and TV advertising; to determine the intent and detect bias in news stories; and how to sift through for the facts, or lack thereof. My husband and I have done the same for our children. But, I don’t believe that every parent has benefited from lessons in media literacy growing up. Media literacy is interwoven with critical thinking, in my opinion. The last 6 years have demonstrated to me that many of our families and schools have failed to teach our citizens to be media literate or critical thinkers.

I believe the two greatest skills needed for the 21st century are:

1. Writing
2. Editing (media literacy is a component of this)

Information is coming at us so quickly that we are going to need to “edit on-the-fly.”

It’s not going to be easy, however, to thrive in the 21st information-glut century, it will be necessary.

I must admit to reading your blog with some degree of trepidation. As a recently retired Reading/English teacher, I too was raised in a family in which literacy and critical thinking were highly regarded. My parents made weekly pilgrimages to our local public library,signed out and read several books a week, and returned them, satiated and ready for their next feast.

Although I am an avid reader, my experience is still quite different from that of my parents. Growing up with television alone changed that. The most profound changes, however,have come with the increasingly sophisticated technology. Critical reading and thinking take time, and when speed of delivery becomes the primary focus, the literacy game changes. Jane Healey articulates this well in her book “Endangered Minds”.

I have embraced the current technology for survival reasons. I just wonder if, at some point,we may lose our literary souls.

I think looking back on our common childhood experiences in media literacy can be very powerful. There was a lot of commentary about media (newspaper, radio, TV news) I witnessed as a child. Even though I was not interested or included in these conversations, my parents were modeling their thinking out loud as they engaged in this media. I am hoping that modeling my blogging and talking about my news preferences (New York Times, CBS Sunday Morning, NPR) in front of my children and in my classroom will help students to think about how to be choosy about their media.

Recently, my students and I were talking about some information about bats. One student claimed that on Animal Planet he had learned _____________. Even though the children don’t yet understand what makes a web source reputable, I was able to take this opportunity to talk about the value of that show and its validity. Asking children to tell me where and how they are able to get information is a meaningful way for them to get used to citing their sources during discussions. Hopefully as our youth continues to engage in these casual but very guided conversations they can begin to do it more naturally in the context of their writing.

Even if the media literacy is not valued at home, I am hoping we can provide this value in our classroom when we as teachers spend time modeling our reading and writing life with all students.

I agree with Ken Leebow above: writing and editing are essential. Actually, understanding of how writing and editing are done by others is essential. Like others here, I grew up with what I call information literacy as a family value— but it was in the dark ages. My own children, now 25 and 28, grew up steeped in the Internet. Yes, they told their friends about late night “visits” with their dad from the computer in the basement to text-based “places” in far-off countries and languages when no one had even heard of the Internet. I think we found things we weren’t supposed to find. They also heard their parents talking about the story on NPR as we prepared dinner or asking questions aloud to the TV newscasts about the things they left out. It was our modeling, I think, that made them healthy skeptics. Did we, as parents, ever plan this or even talk about it? Only when we came home from parent-teacher conferences where we heard that our children had been mentioning all sorts of amazing things in school, and citing their sources from the media.

My message to parents and adults trying to raise information-literate kids: think out loud…THINK out loud… well —first, just THINK.

I grew up in the Caribbean in the 50s. We were only allowed to listen to and watch news during the school week. Reading, comprehension, writing and math were the main focus in the family. I have fostered the same with my own kids but I am definitely intimidated by the technology at first. In order for me to overcome this fear, I have to really get comfortable with the process. I realize that because of the rapid advances in technology, I have no choice but to get comfortable with it. A work in progress.

I grew up with the TV on all the time and no parent offering any filter or feedback for what I was seeing. It’s a wonder I can think at all!

Somehow, out of that experience, I became interested in what is now called citizen journalism through ideas developed while a religious studies major at Guilford College in North Carolina. I became a public TV producer, started a non-profit to create a community media center, advocates for public access TV, and organized hearings on Media Ownership, including an upcoming hearing in Columbus . Now I work as an educational technologist in higher ed.

Despite my media experience and savvy, or perhaps because of it, very little broadcast media is consumed in our house. My kids, with few exceptions, get 2.5 hours of “screen time” a week. Most of that time is spent on computer games.

This puts me at odds with many in the Edtech realm who see digitally connected kids in their utopic visions of networked education. I simply do not see a developmentally appropriate reason for young children to have their learning mediated by a screen. They need to be negotiating social and emotional relationships in real space.

The tech can come later. They are already more savvy at 7 and 10 than I was at 30.

Sill, I realize that much of what my wife are doing is sheltering, not educating. At least not educating about media.If it is not a big influence in our house, it is everywhere else. So thanks for the reminder that this is something to add to our parenting challenges ahead.

Yes, I agree with you Rich. I think that some childeren are exposed to too much media in the home and that they should be playing and be more creative in the early years. I don’t have any children at this moment but I assumed that parents during this day and age would be talking to their children at home about media literacy and in that respect I mean the internet and world wide web. When I hear the term media literacy since educ. tech. is part of my everyday job.
I think it is important to let children see parents using all forms of media be it magizines, newspapers, www, or internet and really make an effort to explain to their children the pros and cons of the media. I think that when I become a parent that I will also need to have conversations about media literacy. I never would have thought about media literacy as being an important topic before since we’re so inundated with it but it should def. be discussed at home.

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