We Need Media Literacy Too

This week Education Week published the  article “Where Do Biases Start? A Challenge to Educators” composed by Darius D. Prier, Ph.D., that focused on biases educators may have towards African American young men due to media’s representation of them. In order to address this issue, one recommendation Dr. Prier suggests for teacher educators programs is to include media literacy in their courses.  He explains,

“A majority of the education students I teach at the university level come from isolated, segregated, affluent, white communities. Many desire to be teachers in urban school settings, but have had limited contact with communities of color. Subsequently, much of what they know about the black community comes from the radio, music, movies, or television. These media often provide a narrow characterization of black male identity related to crime, sports, and entertainment.

Therefore, teacher education programs should offer opportunities for students to engage in critical media literacy. Students should learn to examine how representations in the news and popular culture can intentionally or unintentionally reinforce stereotypical representations of black males as criminals in our subconscious. When preservice teachers develop the skill set for critically reading how the media as an institution possess the power to distort racial identities, they gain a new consciousness that counters the image of black males as thugs to humanize their perceptions.”

the latino media gap coverHis comments about black youth in media remind me of a recent report by Frances Negrón-Muntaner, Ph.D. called The Latino Media Gap, which addresses media’s limited representation of Latinos and Latinas in U.S. media sources.  Dr. Prier and Dr. Negrón-Muntaner’s works both highlight how the limited portrayal of people from various cultural communities can lead adults to develop narrow perceptions of these minority groups.  As society becomes increasingly heterogenous and media sources become more varied and dominant, early childhood professionals and parents need to have the ability to navigate through these sources in order to decipher fact from biased perceptions.  However, many of us may not receive media literacy in our educational or parenting experiences, so what can we do now to help us develop these skills? I will share a few strategies in use in this post and provide additional resources in my next post.

The best strategy (and actually this is more of a way of life for me) is having colleagues, peers, and family members of different backgrounds and engaging them in meaningful dialogue about media, culture, and society.  Having authentic and quality relationships with people from different backgrounds keeps me open to new perspectives of media, even if at times I may feel uncomfortable having these discussions.  Before initiating conversations with them on media and diversity, I first acknowledge and understand that I have my own cultural and personal lens in which I filter the world.  This understanding helps me recognize my limitations and contributions I bring to the conversation.  There have been multiple circumstances in which I did not notice in a particular biased representation of a cultural group in a television show, popular film, or a commercial that a peer pointed out to me.  These conversations are insightful and help me broaden my perception and deepen my knowledge on the impact of media on different people.  Even with these conversations, I’m very conscious of not making one or two people “tokens” of her or his community.  I know that each person is reflective of his or her experience, and they do not represent a whole culture.

To stay attuned to current trends in the field of media and culture, I read various news stories, articles, and books.  I have multiple sources of information so that I can compare and contrast points.  With each source, I try to learn their agenda, perspective, and background.  This helps me take a step back from only consuming the media and seeing the bigger picture of the story.  Often times, while reading the source I compose one or two questions about the content.  These questions help me dig further into the issue instead of remaining limited to the author’s perspective.

Each of us has our own strategy for developing media literacy.  Whether it started in an educational course, news article, or conversation, the important part is that we’re integrating this 21st century skill in our daily lives.  Share with me your approach to enhancing media literacy in your work with young children or in your parenting style.

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