Children in the upper elementary grades are beginning to feel like stakeholders in the world and want explanations for the problems and crises that are part of daily life. This video clip serves as a letter-to-the-editor that was designed to cultivate the spirit of talking back to the media. For me, this clip invites an exploration of how practices of "critical" media literacy may or may not activate genuine critical thinking.
CONTEXT. During the summer of 2009, these children were studying the news media as part of the Powerful Voices for Kids program. Media literacy instructor Aggie Ebrahimi Bazzaz worked with a group of preadolescent children over the course of four weeks, beginning with informal conversation, where children articulated their frustration with exploitative and sensationalistic stories about violence. Students then worked collaboratively to compose a letter to local television news organizations, asking broadcasters to make changes in their representation of social reality.
QUESTIONS. As you watch the video, consider:
- What did children learn from completing this activity? What knowledge and skills were gained?
- These children want "good news" instead of "bad news." They expressed their opinions. Should these children have learned about the economic, political, historical and social reasons why local TV news is structured as it is? Why or why not?
- The teacher made a great effort to deliver the children's message to local TV news producers. Is such an effort an essential feature of the learning experience? How was the message likely to be understood by media professionals?
When it comes to the intentional design of teaching and learning environments, educators must consider the important distinctions between (1) the expression of critical opinions, (2) the concept of "voice," and (3) the practice of critical thinking. Those who advocate for critical media literacy may inadvertently conflate these perspectives in the context of positioning citizens as victimized by mainstream media, stereotypes, or "if-it-bleeds-it-leads" style TV news. If we want to help children and young people deepen their understanding of how symbols are used to maintain, examine or challenge the status quo, we can't neglect the practice of critical thinking which gives learners the transferable skills needed to thrive in today's complex media ecosystem.