“Media education is an essential step in the long march towards participatory democracy.” The statement of English educator Len Masterman, one of the pioneering voices in this area, has already completed 30 years but is more current than ever. Last week, two of the main international events on the subject emphasized the inclusive nature of media education and showed how the development of skills to consume and produce information in a reflective and responsible manner is a prerequisite for citizen participation.
The North American Association of Media Education (Namle) conference was explicit in naming the 2021 edition, held last weekend, as “Media Education + Social Justice”.
For its organizers, media education helps to understand the relationships between media, information and power. “The process of developing media skills helps us to decipher what a certain content wants you to believe and why, who benefits from your belief, which perspectives are included in the dominant discourse and which have been marginalized or omitted”, they justified. “In short, media education helps us understand issues related to systemic inequalities and who benefits from them.”
Also held this month, the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy —a reference program developed by researchers Renee Hobbs and Julie Coiro (University of Rhode Island) to train educators— promoted media education as an antidote to prejudice and exclusion.
“Media education is a response to deep inequalities and is about how people use their voices and their rights to improve the world around them”, highlighted Renee, opening the event to nearly 200 people who, over the course of a week, learned, created and reflected on media education practices in different contexts, inside and outside formal education environments.
From the reflection on the values and messages present in the media with which we relate daily to the creation of counter-narratives in the most diverse formats, it became clear that it is the role of teachers, yes, to offer children and young people the conditions to express themselves critically. In practice, it is necessary for students to know multiple perspectives on the same subject, with access to materials that function as “windows, mirrors and doors” (so that they can see the plurality of the world, so that they see themselves represented in it and so that they can participate of its construction).
A good starting point is the teacher’s recognition of how the media messages they interact with can shape their identity. What values, narratives and perspectives influence you? And how do these influences reach the classroom?
Educator Kristin Ziemke, co-author of the book “Read the World: Rethinking Literacy for Empathy and Action in a Digital Age”, proposes an exercise interesting: build an inventory of influences. The idea is to bring together, on a digital or paper wall, the multimedia contents that are part of our lives right now, including books, movies, series, podcasts, music, inspirations from social networks, digital tools, people and even experiences.
Identifying the lens through which we view the world is essential—only in this way can we help children and young people to also recognize which messages and media influence them and help shape their view of the world. This is, without a doubt, an important step for them to be able to map prejudiced discourses that perpetuate inequalities or sustain injustices and, through skills related to media education, use their voice and their creations in favor of a better world.