When Parents Lead, Children Succeed

B2W Radio - Navigating a Mediated Existence

B2W Radio - Navigating a Mediated Existence

Elane V. Scott
Rick Stephens
Featured Guest:
Renee Hobbs

Dear Stakeholder Leaders,

I first engaged with today's program guest, Renee Hobbs, while participating in a Felton Media Literacy Scholar graduate course at the Center for Media Literacy in Los Angeles. She was but a voice on a conference call at that point, yet I still recall my first impression: I was charmed and enthralled. She is the consummate storyteller, educator, scholar, and advocate for media literacy education. And she has brought media literacy to the attention of the public with a special flair. I think you’ll find her as enthralling in this interview as I did then and still do today.

So what is media literacy? It is an expansion of the idea about how competent and able a person is in communicating with symbols (i.e. sounds, letters, and pictures). The Center for Media Literacy defines it as “the entire process of accessing, analyzing, evaluating and creating media.” Most agree on the basic definition of literacy as being able to read and write on paper. But today literacy also means being able to comprehend and reveal meaning in all our current tools of communication, such as film, public speaking, text messaging, acting, and computer graphics. Someone who is media literate, then, can communicate using a variety of media and technology to share meaning, and is able to critically think about the construction of that media and its meaning when made by others.

But why does media literacy matter? Think for a moment about all of the media you may use in a single day, from radio, to cell phone, computer, or DVDs. Then think about how much time each one of those devices demands, not just from you, but from your children. On top of that, you are not fully in control of your own personal devices because of the careful placement of products and advertising messages within them. Everyone knows that advertisers are trying to sell you stuff in commercials. How much more do you have to understand? More than understanding the mechanics of how media is made, and the surface level understanding that advertisers want you to buy their product, a media literate person understands the financial, political, emotional, and branding symbols that make up the entire finished media product. Moreover, the media literate person recognizes that the final media product may not be as blatant as a commercial, but more discreet, as on product placement, t-shirts, and bumper stickers. Media messages are pervasive, and a fully literate person today not only understands the sounds, letters, and pictures told by family and friends, but he is able to identify and distinguish the symbols and messages of media.

This ability to truly understand what you are seeing and listening to is a learned skill. It is not innate. For thousands of years we shared the human story between and among ourselves either orally, as the native cultures shared stories about their daily activities around a fire, or by painting pictures on cave walls. Advancing oral traditions created the wandering story teller, and then we began writing our stories down. Each of these methods called on us to engage a broad range of our own senses – we saw, listened, and analyzed, spoke, and drew about what we did in our every day lives—or maybe what our ancestors did. But we sorted out and internalized what we were told based on comparing what we heard with our own life experiences. Our ancestors had to have rich perceptive skills because they depended on them for life.

Now, roll forward several hundred years and in comes technology. Thrusting pictures, sounds, and stories on us with breathtaking rapidity, technology now introduces us to innumerable worlds with which we most likely have no real life experience. Suddenly we find ourselves intimately isolated from each other in a world drowning in media. And every industry that relies heavily on technology to promote itself, has failed to expand the number of people who want to innovate or be part of it in the future. Now instead of our own activities, we watch others do it through media. Where are the hordes of new and upcoming musicians in a world where music is everywhere? We don't dance much on our own now. We let professionals sing our national anthem because we have lost our national voice. Few of us have confidence enough to cook a fresh meal for our families, but we watch others while eating take-out. What happened? It is beginning to become obvious that a wholesale rush into electronic engagement without barriers has come at the expense of human contact. Small children identify more with the life of Hannah Montana than their own. Can this be healthy?

In her book, Reading the Media: Media Literacy in High School English (2007, Teachers College Press), Renee revealed the first large-scale empirical evidence of the impact of media literacy education on reading comprehension skills and research. Influenced by the work of John Dewey and Marshall McLuhan, Renee’s research uses a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the impact of media literacy education on student academic achievement. Is it important for young people to understand who wrote what they are reading? Should they be clear about what an advertising message leaves out as much as they understand what it has in it? A reviewer of her book named above said, “For Hobbs, present-day media literacy practices must move beyond protecting youth from adverse television and Internet encounters. Instead, she values media literacy pedagogy that teaches today's students how to make informed choices about the variety of texts they have at their disposal, now including electronic books. For Hobbs, making an informed or media literate choice about media consumption and creation requires that students critically engage with new media forms, or ‘symbol systems, tools, and technologies’ , by asking questions about texts; learning to compose through digital, electronic, and virtual means; and sharing ideas through new modes and mediums of representation. With this in mind, Hobbs reiterates the need for people (teachers, parents, students) to take greater responsibility for their own reading and uses of texts” (adapted from Wikipedia). After all, students do as we do.

Drowning in oceans of images and sounds everywhere they turn, young people are dropped off at the virtual doorstep of many of life’s experiences through the daily use of tools that are likely indiscriminate about who uses them. Yet, these same youngsters may not have the perceptive maturity or experience to internalize those sounds or images and make meaning of them. If we persist in ignoring the developmental changes we see in our youngsters today, associated with the decline in their perceptive development, we run the risk of sweeping aside our traditional culture, with little in the pipeline to take its place.

Become media literate yourself and learn to pick what electronic media your children need and when they need it. Renee Hobbs invites listeners to start down that path and begin to see the world of electronic imagery and wizardry as never before.

Elane V. Scott

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