I wonder why Mr. Dean never brought in actual commercials or print advertisement so that we could analyze and discuss the intricacies of how advertisers were manipulating the viewers’ perception. Perhaps Mr. Dean in his ivory tower didn’t want to give media the significance of a place on the curriculum. However, research is confirming that media can be used as a tool that will allow students to critically engage in and question their world. Project Look Sharp (1999), a Ithaca College-based media literary initiative, traces the history of media literacy from its beginnings as a model of “protection (from the so-called ‘evil effects of media)” to the current model of “empowerment (stressing critical thinking and production skills.)”
As it turns out, we haven’t come very far in our knowledge of media literacy since its beginnings in the 1970’s as a protection model. In one 1999 study of 130 secondary schools, it was discovered that though teachers had heard of the term ‘media literacy,’ they were unable to define it in regard to its function as a critical tool (Hobbs, 1999). One teacher defined it as, “Media literacy is the understanding of all technology and media that is available and how to use it effectively.” There are rampant misuses of media in the classroom. Over a three year period within two school districts, it was repeatedly observed that teachers used the television to keep students quiet while they did other work. It was also observed that there was no opportunity to discuss or ask questions about the material. The message this gives to students is that this is time to relax rather than to critically think.
One final aspect of the use of media in the classroom is one that has been beaten into us in our first-year of teaching. Differentiation! Students, who have different learning abilities or styles, benefit from a varied array of presentation materials. However, I stumbled upon a very eloquent discussion of visual experience from Douglas W. Green’s study of the Binghamton City Schools in 1993. After surveying 55 teachers, he also cited an axiological understanding of visual reception from Elliot Eisner who wrote in The Enlightened Eye.
Some visual systems depict visually, but appeal to our emotions-as in expressionism. Others depict visually, but appeal to our imagination-as in surrealism. Still others depict visually, but appeal to our optical experience…In fact, the form we select is constitutive of the understanding we acquire: the medium is part of the message (Green, 1993)
I am not entirely sure students in secondary school will be able to articulate so eloquently the differences in their experiences when viewing expressionism vs. surrealism. However, to give them the opportunity by presenting images then posing questions is enough to empower them to interact with the world in a new way. By utilizing media for its artistic and critical potential, we are creating people who feel empowered to create their own message in the varied forms of media.
Green, Douglas W. (1993). Media Meets Curriculum: Uses, Abuses, Historic Perspective, and Potential Emerging Technologies. Binghamton University, 36 p.
Hobbs, Renee (1999). The Uses (and Misuses) of Mass Media Resources in Secondary Schools. 21 p.
Project Look Smart (1999). 12 Basic Principles for Incorporating Media Literacy into any Curriculum. Ithaca College, NY, 13 p.