Media Literacy Is The Solution

Media is everywhere. Literally. Everywhere. It’s a tricky thing. Teachers will passionately tell us that this is the Holy Grail, the Million Dollar Question:

How can we teach kids to be discriminating about information so that they grow up to be sophisticated, discerning and informed grown-ups?

I’m not going to ramble on about McLuhan and Postman, yet, again, but imagine this for some context: if we’d only just discovered that Earth is round, there’d still be a bazillion websites out there reinforcing the old, incorrect ideas that it’s flat. And lots of people would read them and continue to believe it, resisting any notion that they could be wrong. For crying out loud, some people still believe the planet is flat still today.

Many of us grown-ups claim, either silently to ourselves or loud and proud from our armchairs, to have more skill in determining fallacies from facts as adults. This is a fallacy in and of itself. And it doesn’t matter if we grew up with the Internet or not. We’re no better at distinguishing fact from fiction than children and it’s getting trickier by the day to tell a paid news item apart from a commercial from a massively well-resourced deception campaign designed to quickly sway a majority of our thought about key issues in an election via social media, newsfeeds, websites, etc.

Children are arguably more media–obsessed than us grown-ups, if that’s possible. Studies abound with numbers that grow year over year regarding the hours they spend in front of screens big and small. Those numbers aren’t declining as those children age. Douglas Rushkoff, a thoughtful and respected media theorist, coined the term “screen–agers” to convey the depth of this statistic into other areas of life and how we have yet to learn the impact it’s really having on our perceptions.

A different kind of study — the 2013 Roper Youth Report — shows that kids ages 8 to 17 have 10% more say now than they did in the previous year regarding the money their families’ spend on media across formats.

While it’s fair to say a majority of this media is consumed for entertainment and recreation, rather than for information and education, it’s also true that media is ubiquitous and that our kids spend so much time immersed in it that it offers educators an enormous opportunity (and duty) to elevate them with new and increasingly valuable skills that will make them more sophisticated and understanding about how media is used, who creates it, what their messages are, why, what tools they used to create those messages, why, and whether or not those messages would have the same meaning to someone else, say, in another part of the world.

If we choose not to build better media literacy in our children, how to read about, watch, interpret, deconstruct, understand and analyze media, we risk raising a generation of illiterate consumers who don’t care about being discriminating.

Are we creating future generations vulnerable to ideas that aren’t inclusive, equitable or tolerant, incomplete truths and false advertising?