Media Literacy Educators Are Not Responsible for Society’s Digital Problems

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-10-39-42-pmThe Media Literacy community is dedicated and passionate about its work — but not according to danah boyd (yes she spells her name this way).

I’ve just read her article, Did Media Literacy Backfire? and honestly, I am puzzled. Boyd aptly describes today’s problems with unsubstantiated information and dramatic cultural divides, but she goes on to blame media literacy.

Medialit has no causal relationship with the cultural issues that divide us. In fact, if there is any connection between today’s digital information and cultural communication problems it’s that we don’t have nearly enough school literacy programs to help all students learn how to deconstruct and consume media.

Media literacy educators carry on despite considerable odds. Challenged, as all educators are, by politicians, school board whims, money issues, teacher disrespect, and a lack of concern about media literacy itself — medialit instructors steadfastly devote themselves to helping students develop the skills to think critically, evaluate sources, and analyze media. Once it was with print newspapers, magazines, and advertising content, but these days medialit has evolved to include digital information, social media, and everything in-between.

And who are these adults boyd describes as telling kids not to use Wikipedia? Definitely not media literacy teachers. Of course lots of people — parents, teachers, administrators, and even academicians in institutions where danah boyd has worked —  did not like and even disparaged Wikipedia, especially early on. But media literacy educators that I’ve studied or worked with never tell students — of any age — that something is bad. Instead they devise learning activities that enable young people (and also adults) to evaluate sources, analyze information, confirm details, think critically and  look at all sides of an issue. When I taught media literacy to fifth graders my students often reached different opinions, and that was just fine.

Boyd, an ethnographer shares the views of young digital citizens with whom she’s conducted interviews for her research. Yes, it’s important to learn about understand as much as possible about young people, their digital life strategies, and the prisms through which these adolescents gaze.  I wonder, however, how many of boyd’s interviewees have ever taken part in school media literacy programs.

It’s simply not sensible or collegial to cast aspersions and assign blame to any one set of educators — or anyone else —  for the contemporary societal ills that challenge us, and it doesn’t help to solve any of the world’s digital or media problems.

 

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