Antiracist Activism for Teachers and Students/Points to Consider for Teaching Anti-racism/Media Literacy In Schools

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Media Literacy in Schools[edit | edit source]

As radio and television stations have become large predominantly white corporate entities, it has become increasingly difficult for people from communities of color to own radio and television stations. The existence of racism, low economic status, and lack of access to technology often prohibit media makers of color from voicing their opinions (Free Press, n.d.). According to a report by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration people of color owned only 449 (3.8 percent) of full-power commercial radio and television stations in the United States by 2001(Free Press, n.d.). These predominantly white owned companies and institutions often project negative racial images in the media that ultimately influences the way people think about race and how society functions. Because of this, it is important for students to recognize how communities of color have historically been misrepresented in the media in order to breakdown the stereotypes that have been embedded in society.

Media literacy is slowly becoming an accepted field of study for educators to research and teach (Yosso, 2002). Media Literacy is “the ability to access, analyze, and produce information for specific outcomes” (Schwarz et al., 2005, 11). The purpose of a school wide curriculum that includes media literacy is for students to have the opportunity to learn how to ask critical questions that allow the students analyze and recognize socially constructed stereotypes within the media. Students will learn how every day image constructions can be driven by money and influenced by media makers’ personal opinions which in turn will empower students to challenge the dominant discourse. Media literacy curriculum will challenge students to find, develop, publicly present, and apply their voices as agents of social change. Students will learn how to use media to perpetuate a positive view of race and inform others about media literacy. Through this understanding, students will gain perspective about the importance of equal racial control and operation of media production.

Corporations in the Media[edit | edit source]

To begin incorporating media literacy into the curriculum it is crucial to teach the fundamentals behind the corporations and institutions that control the media. It is important to first explain to students about how the media is formed, why it is formed, and the influences it has on society (Schwarz et al., 2005, 1). By using examples of different forms of media, such as commercials and television shows, students can easily understand how the media is constructed to form and present opinions. The teachers should cover the following eight key concepts in their curriculum Pungente, 1989):

  1. All media are constructions of images and sounds to provoke messages and opinions.
  2. Our views and interpretations of reality are often formed by media messages.
  3. Audiences interpret the meaning of media messages differently based upon their race, class, and personal experiences.
  4. Media is a commercial industry controlled by businesses that aspire to make a profit.
  5. Media is an ideological medium that advocates for certain social beliefs.
  6. Media is a resource to provoke political change.
  7. Relatable form and content of media is used to attract certain groups of people.
  8. Media is made to be aesthetically pleasing to individuals, by using certain editing techniques.

While media literacy is advised in all classrooms, it is important to avoid duplicating activities and audio-visual materials (Duncan, 1989). Each year, teachers, department heads, and principals should plan a school-wide, sequential media studies program. It is recommend that there be a media-literacy board within the school which can organize educational workshops for teachers and help them design curricula for their respective classrooms, as well as organize the sequence of lessons from grade level to grade level.

In order to begin to form a media literate curriculum in the classroom, teachers and principals must take into account the wide variety of options that exist for inclusion in a media lesson. According to the Media Awareness Network, there are three broad areas within which we can raise questions that will allow students to “deconstruct” the media: text, audience, and production (Duncan, 1989). A text is any media product a teacher wishes to examine, whether it is a television program, a book, a poster, a popular song, or the latest fashion. We can discuss with students what the type of text is, and how it differs from other types of text. We can also identify its denotative meaning and discuss such features as narrative structure, how meanings are communicated, values embedded in the text, and similarities and differences between texts (Duncan, 1989).

It is important for students and teachers to identify who the producers of the text are tyring to target as well as those who are receiving the text (the audience). Advertisers often show images or use music they know particular age groups of people relate to and in this way they target a specific demographic through the texts they produce (Canadian Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts, 1992). Production encompasses everything that goes into making media texts; the technology, ownership and economics, the institutions involved, the legal issues, and the use of common codes and practices. The teacher must focus on the relationships between the text, the production, and the audience. How does the cost of technology determine who can make media productions? How are values related to ownership and control? What is the relationship between story content and commercial priorities? These questions all pertain to the racial inequality of media ownership and representation within the media (Duncan, 1989).

Students come to class with a preconceived notion about media and are unaware at times of the subliminal influence the media may have on the way they think and act in society. Teachers can begin with the students preconceived notions and build from their experience by introducing new ideas and media that students are not familiar with. The basic method of media studies is that of a "spiral curriculum," a concept developed by educator Jerome Bruner. The fundamental principle of this method is that the key concepts of media literacy can be taught through any discipline to students of any level. The key concepts therefore, can be successively built upon throughout all levels of education. As students mature and develop they can study media literacy in increasingly sophisticated ways. While these sample lessons are directed towards middle-high school aged students because of the types of media used, there is no reason that educators should be discouraged from using different media to bring media literacy to an elementary school level (Fleming, 2007).

Critical Questions of the Media[edit | edit source]

Much like Bruner, J. Francis Davis suggests in his article, “Media Literacy: From Activism to Exploration,” that media literacy should be incorporated in all classrooms. Even though most teachers only teach one subject, he believes it is the teacher’s responsibility to teach not only about media, but how the media is formed (Davis, 1992). For example, a history teacher could present news media material from the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement and show how the media illustrates racial inequality over time. The teacher should be prepared to guide the students through a list of questions that allow the students to critically analyze the media image. Out of the many media literacy curriculums already formed, the most widely accepted curriculum for all subjects emphasizes critical questions which can be asked and answered by students about the media seen (Schwarz et al., 2005, 126). The most widely accepted questions are named, “The Five”:

  1. Who created this message?
  2. What creative techniques are used to attract attention?
  3. How might different people understand this message differently?
  4. What lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented in, or omitted from this message?
  5. Why is this message being sent?

The process of answering such critical questions will raise students awareness on how the media can influence people in society. Students will become informed about the ways in which the media portrays particular people or groups of people and how those portrayals can influence how people think and act towards each other.

Media literacy does not just stop at the analytical level. After students become comfortable with the process of reading media, they can then use media to voice their own opinions and become anti-racist activists. Students can create their own media, such as commercials, news updates, and music. By creating their own media the students learn the process through experience and are able to use media to send out a positive message. Students need to determine what they want to say, who they want to say it to, and how they are going to go about it (Canadian Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts, 1992). The following website has examples of an effective communications plan built around a hypothetical situation.

An effective media program will involve students in both analysis and production of media products. Teachers should challenge students to find their own voices, to work hard to apply them, and to do so responsibly. Students should be encouraged to express themselves within their own vernacular and be empowered to interact with media through language. Our critique of the media as it exists does not fully examine the structures that perpetuate racial privilege therefore, teachers must also give students lessons about racism and white privilege.

Media literacy is slowly becoming a more widely accepted research topic. Media affects everyone, and plays a large part in our lives. Groups such as AMLA and ACME (Action Coalition for Media Education) are groups that support media literacy however, they have a very different perception of what media literacy is. AMLA believes that media literacy is a process in critically examining media, while ACME fully rejects all media (Schwarz et al., 2005, 235). Many ACME anti-racist curriculums available to educators focus only on the negative aspects of the media (Schwarz et al., 2005, 236). It is important however, that curriculums include how the media can positively portray opinions and messages about race and culture. C. Wornsop is quoted in saying, “If media education is seen exclusively- or even principally- as an instrument to cure things that are seen as being wrong with today’s media or with today’s students, or with today’s society, it won’t work… it will fail as a subject in the curriculum.” (Schwarz et al., 2005, 237). The media is a powerful instrument that reaches millions of people and if used in a positive way it can effect social change.

There are many other emerging groups who focus on education, which resemble ACME and AMLA. The Center of Media and Values have produced curricula packages that provide teachers with activity books and lesson plans that teach students about media literacy since 1990 (Davis, 1992, 10). There is a growing amount of curricula packages like Media Values presented at media literacy based conferences, such as the Southwest Alternative Project (Davis, 1992, 11). The growing support of organizations and materials, though different in some aspects, are helping students become more aware of the affects of the media. Practical media production is an important dimension that complements the application of the key concepts and decoding exercises. Keep in mind however, that practical activities should never become an end in themselves; otherwise, the critical inquiry that is central to media study may be ignored.

Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Bergsma, L., Considine, D., Culver, S. H., Hobbs, R., Rosen, Y., Scheibe, C., et al. (2007, April). Core Principles of Media Literacy Education. Retrieved November 18, 2007, fromAlliance for a Media Literate America:
  • Communities of Color and Media Ownership. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2007, from Free Press:
  • Davis, F. (1992). Media Literacy: From Activism to Exploration. Retrieved December 9, 2007, from Center for Media Literacy:
  • Duncan, B. e. (1989). Specific Approaches to Media Literacy. In B. e. Duncan, Media Literacy Resource Guide. Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Education.
  • English Quarterly, vol. 25, nos. 2-3. Canadian Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts. Toronto, Ontario, 1992.
  • Fleming, J. (2007, Nov 11). Media Literacy in Higher Education. Retrieved Nov 18, 2007, from Ebsco:
  • Pungente, J. (2007). Nine Factors that Make Media Literacy Flourish. Retrieved November 19, 2007, from Media Awareness Network: ctors.cfm
  • Schwarz, G., & Brown, P. (2005). Media Literacy: Transforming Curriculum and Teaching. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Yosso, T. (2002, March 22). Critical Race Media and Literacy: Challenging deficit discourse about Chicanas. Retrieved November 21, 2007, from High Beam Encyclopedia: *