Curriculum Framework

With an understanding of my past as both teacher and student, and a theoretical foundation from which to work, all that was left was the inspiration – the fire – which would bring it all together and fuel my classroom curriculum. Media literacy became that fuel. Instead of avoiding the disruptions provided by the media-saturated world of students, media literacy seeks to turn student’s attention back on the media machine and its creators, to hone their critical thinking skills by working together on different projects based on topics that interest them, yet still cover the prescribed texts, skills, and knowledges.

This essay, like the class it came from Edct 559, was a revelation for me. Media literacy proved to be the touchstone I needed to anchor my curriculum and set the tone for the entire school year. I learned that I am, and always have been, a little more radical than I had thought, and that I’ve made some mistakes in my original concepts for educational technology. This article provides the starting point and motive force for my curriculum.

It begins with a description of media literacy, which educator and researcher Renee Hobbs (2007) defines as the process of accessing and critically analyzing media messages and creating messages using media tools. It is a liberal approach, founded on the classical liberal arts, which had as their goal the improvement of the individual. The tool the Concord English department uses in their critical analysis of media texts is a series of five critical questions:

1. Who is sending the message and what is the author’s purpose?
2. What techniques are used to attract and hold attention?
3. What lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented in this message?
4. How might different people interpret this message differently?
5. What is omitted from this message?

The focus of these questions is on the meaning and importance of the text and how it affects the individual – combining both liberal and critical models. Although it inspires students to think critically about media messages, it places the focus on the text itself, and does not analyze anything which led to the production of the text nor to other receivers of the text. Although this is a suitable place to start, there are some media literacy advocates that say these models ignore the most important point of media.

Len Masterman (quoted in Lewis & Jhally, 1998) explains that media literacy is a way for the common citizen to exercise power as a part of the media landscape. The American media system is commercialized. Media corporations, like all corporate entities, have no imperative to educate: their concern is with making money, which is fine in and of itself. However corporations do not have the citizen’s best interest at heart; they answer primarily to their stock holders. This radical model of media literacy empowers citizens to take a critical stance towards their sources of information – the producers of media, and to examine media in the context which it is created and consumed.

This contextual approach to media literacy was explicated by Justin Lewis and Sut Jhally (1998), who believed that media literacy is not about teaching people how to understand the shows they watch or the music they listen to, rather “Media literacy should integrate a textual analysis with questions of production and reception” (p.109) It is much more important to understand the context in which media is created and viewed – not just how the message was created, but why? And by/for whom?
Lewis and Jhally call this a “Circuit of Production and Reception” (p.111): it represents the process of a media producer creating a text, the transmission of the text, and its reception by an audience. Traditional media literacy only examines the mid-portion of the circuit, the text itself. But to fully understand the text and its context, students must examine everyone involved with the media text and how they interact. Once people understand the context of media production they can make informed decisions about how it affects their world. This is the meaning of the statement, “Media literacy is a way of extending democracy to the very place where democracy is increasingly scripted and defined”(p.114), a concept that Dewey would agree with.

Teaching such a political economy need not be tricky. A liberal or critical textual analysis of media will often raise questions that can be answered through the lens of a political economy. Lewis and Jhally use the example of car ads: students may notice that there is no traffic on the roads or pollution in the air, which can lead to questions such as why that is? Who benefits from the lack? And what stake do those beneficiaries have in the production of media? It is easier for students to analyze a text when they can put a face on its creator and a reason for its production. It is a short step from there to asking questions about the media system themselves.

This is where it gets tricky, as Lewis and Jhally explain: the very idea of questioning the form that media takes in America is a foreign concept. And analyzing such media entities as anti-smoking programs funded by tobacco corporations can lead students to become cynical. Others see such curriculum as politically motivated. According to Jay Lemke (2005) the very act of thinking critically implies a lack of faith in the thing being analyzed. People are unconvinced that how things appear on the surface is how they really are, so they dig in to find more information, to get to “the truth”. This truth is in reality just an individual’s understanding of what is being analyzed, in which case everyone will have a slightly different “truth”. Therefore this is not an attempt to degrade a student’s trust in the “system”, but rather to turn a critical lens toward media so they can see that the values and assumptions it carries are not necessarily their values, nor those that they may wish to pass on to the next generation.

The key is to show students that they have the power to be heard, that in this age of democratized access to the tools of production they can speak their mind and lay out what is in their heart, and be heard. This is the overall message of the Shakespearean Wiki. Though it is a showcase for student work, it is also a prototype for the kind of media platform that is possible for any student. Using tools freely available online, they will produce and publish work that has the potential to be seen by every person in the world.

The rationale behind the Shakespearean wiki, then, is to combine the personal betterment of the liberal approach to media literacy and the textual analysis of the critical approach with the contextual method of the radical approach by changing students from a media audience to media producers. Thus empowered, they can decide for themselves whether to join the dominant media society or oppose it.

Curriculum.Contextual Med Lit

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