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Media studies rationale/school board presentation

Undeniably, we are living in the media and digital age. Our young people are more connected than ever before. They are also more barraged by media and media messages than ever before. If a school exists to educate students and prepare them for the future, then we must include studies of media literacy to serve our students’ needs for the world they live in.

The school district’s attitude toward media seems cold, indifferent, as though not warranting time or attention. Currently in our district, students have limited ability to access technological media in school. Computers are few, as are technology classes. Media studies are non-existent, either as a stand-alone courses or as an integrated set of student competencies. This is not fair to our students. The Kaiser Family Foundation studied the habits of young people ages 8-18 in 1999 and 2004. The latter study found that America’s youth were spending 6 ½ hours per day using media. In the words of Kaiser Vice President Vicky Rideout, “Anything that takes up this much space in young people’s lives certainly deserves our full attention.?

Unfortunately, a strong back-to-the-basics movement has been taking over our schools and curriculum in response to a never-ending series of tests mandated by local, state, and federal entities. Rather than using an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to teach reading and writing, many curricular components have been jettisoned in favor of a strict and stringent reading and writing approach. This is shortsighted.

Admittedly, schools are under pressure to perform well on tests. But bowing to the tests and dumping courses of study is ridiculous. Standardized tests have long been criticized for oversimplifying the learning that takes place in our classrooms and reducing the measure of student knowledge to some number, some test score, on reading and writing tests. This is a fundamental flaw in the way the tests are set up—they only measure concrete skills and achievement in a couple areas. The tests do nothing to measure other skills that are vitally important—critical thinking, problem solving, synthesizing data, evaluating information, etc.—skills that our young people need forever.

Our curriculum should not be created based on the kinds of test students are required to take. The curriculum should be based on the skills and knowledge students need to be successful in the world, based on teaching students how to be critical thinkers, and based on teaching students how to think for themselves.

The purpose of media studies and literacy in our classrooms is myriad:
1. Students learn to use the media available to them
2. Students learn to think critically about the media
3. Students learn how media can shape culture and society
4. Students learn to recognize bias in the media
5. Students learn to communicate in a variety of ways with a variety of media
6. Students increase their classroom engagement by using a variety of media
7. Students learn to recognize forces influencing media

It is my goal as a teacher to incorporate media and media literacy into all my classes. The world is moving quickly and schools need to keep up so that our students don’t fall behind in the global marketplace. Students must become familiar with and learn to use the media tools available to them. Using media in my classroom means teaching students to think critically about media, teaching students to use media to express themselves, and using media as part of required coursework. For example, students may be required to read an online journal article rather than a chapter from a textbook or respond to a writing prompt on a blog rather than writing on looseleaf paper.

In the back-to-the-basics era of education, the idea of media studies scares people into thinking that reading and writing are not important. That is just the opposite. Media literacy and media studies are best employed as an integrated part of all classrooms, just as reading and writing are not reserved for English classrooms. In college, I wrote excruciatingly detailed lab notes for biology and read extensively on the Romans for Western Civilization class. The integration of reading and writing applies to all content areas, just as media studies and media literacy do. An online video tutorial can be used for a chemistry lab, a You Tube video can show a scene from Shakespeare, or actual footage from political debates can be used in civics class.

Media is not separate from classroom activity. It needs to be an integrated part of classrooms as another avenue for learning and gathering information. For those of us more comfortable with the analog age of getting information and communicating—via newspaper, radio, TV, telephone, snail mail—we cannot simply dismiss conventions of the digital age as fads—cell phones, blogs, wikis, webcasts, podcasts, You Tube, social networking sites—because they are our students’ reality. We must draw on these media as tools to make student learning more useful, engaging, and relevant.