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Form and content are closely related in media messages. As Marshall McLuhan noted, each medium has its own grammar and codifies reality in its own particular way. Different media will report the same event, but create different impressions and messages.
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Each medium has a unique aesthetic form. Just as we notice the pleasing rhythms of certain pieces of poetry or prose, so we ought to be able to enjoy the pleasing forms and effects of the different media.
From More Than Meets the Eye In order to discuss the media and to learn more about it, we need a set of guidelines or concepts which apply to any medium. The media do not present simple reflections of what is around us. Rather, the media present carefully crafted productions that are the result of many decisions and determining factors. These are made by people with specific ends in mind. Technically, these productions are often excellent, and this, coupled with our familiarity with such productions, make it difficult for us to see such productions as anything other than a seamless extension of reality.
What the media are constructing is a certain representation of reality. We all have our own view of reality. We've been building it since the day we were born. The question is, where do we get it from? Much of it, other than what we experience for ourselves, comes from television, radio, newspapers, film, magazines. The media are responsible for most of the observations and experiences from which we build up our personal understandings of the world and how it works. Thus the media, rather than ourselves, to a great extent, give us our sense of reality. Basic to an understanding of media is an awareness of how we interact with media texts TV shows, movies, radio programs, newspapers, the Internet.
The second key concept concentrates on the ways in which the media contribute to the construction of reality. But we also have to realize that each of us brings something unique to the media — ourselves. If the media provide us with much of the material upon which we build our picture of reality, each of us finds or "negotiates" meaning according to individual factors: personal needs and anxieties, the pleasures or troubles of the day, racial and sexual attitudes, family and cultural background, moral standpoint, and so forth.
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All of these will affect our interpretation of what we are watching on television. And because each of us brings with us such different experiences, we have to be open to the fact that different people will experience the same television show in different ways. Most media production is a business, and must make a profit. The economic basis of television has a very real effect on content, technique and distribution. Networks look for audiences to be delivered to sponsors.
Program content makes viewers targets for advertisers and organizes them into marketable groups.
Media messages have social and political implications. Television can affect the election of a national leader on the basis of image. This has been clear since the Kennedy-Nixon debate. The media also involve us in concerns such as civil rights and social issues, sitcoms bring gay characters out of the closet and make them socially acceptable.
Other programs may deal with the effects of global warming, environmental issues, famines in Africa, and the AIDS epidemic. They can give us an intimate sense of national issues and global concerns making us indeed McLuhan's Global Village. As Marshall McLuhan noted, "The medium is the message. Thus, different media reporting the same event will create different impressions and different messages.
For example, television works best with images. Therefore, the evening news will be more likely to show fires, earthquakes, and rioting protesters than the latest round of talks between the nurse's union and the hospital authorities. A newspaper or magazine cannot show live pictures, but they can give you a more detailed background on why a fire started or what were the issues that caused the riot. To see this concept in action read today's paper, listen to today's news on the radio, and watch the evening TV news.
They will present, more or less, the same subjects but there will be a great difference in how they present them. Media education is not only about understanding media texts and their implications for our culture and society, but also about how to enjoy and produce them. Our enjoyment of media can be enhanced by an awareness of how pleasing forms or effects are created. Television is at its best with live events. To build students' information skills, many education reformers recognize that the idea of teaching as "delivering content" needs to be challenged and replaced with the idea of teaching as cultivating "habits of mind," approaches to dealing with new information in ways that promote active engagement from the learner.
Deborah Meier identifies this pedagogy in terms of five questions which should be at the heart of all learning:.
Compare these "habits of mind" as they relate to some of the "key questions" developed by the author to analyze mass media messages:. Questions like those found on these two lists invite the learner to take an active stance towards information. One example of the application of these skills in the secondary grades can be found in the curriculum resource, KNOW-TV, developed by the author in collaboration with The Learning Channel.
This program consists of a three-hour workshop for teachers of language arts, social studies and science in grades 7 - KNOW-TV build media literacy skills within a collection of activities, videotape and print support materials which introduce nine critical questions for analyzing non-fiction or documentary television. Instead of simply using a documentary to 'deliver' content, teachers can use the documentary in a more active, engaged fashion by inviting students to analyze the choices made by the producer in deciding what information to include and what to omit, what techniques to keep and hold viewer attention, and how information was shaped to seem most believable.
By learning to "ask questions about what you watch, see and read," the fundamental premise of media literacy is about "questioning authority," and as such, can be recognized as empowering student autonomy Hobbs, Another critically important dimension of media literacy for citizenship is in helping students understand the crucial role of the press in a democracy. Few public school teachers are prepared to teach any meaningful analysis of the functions of journalism as a result of their own limited education. Research on the way television is used in political education classes reveals that when teachers use newspapers and TV news in the classroom, they do encourage students to be critical of the issues and events depicted, but tend to treat the media's depiction of those issues and events as unproblematic Masterman, When teachers do demonstrate to students the constructed nature of the media message, they sometimes bring their own cynicism and distrust of journalists into the classroom, risking the possibility that students become even further alienated and disenfranchised from the political process.
In a media literacy program designed to strengthen students understanding of the legitimacy of opposing voices within a democracy designed in Israel by Tamar Liebes, students spend three full days in a series of activities, simulations and discussions which introduce them to the problem of reliable observations and the psychology of selective perception.
Students work in groups to document a school issue, are forced to select only a limited number of items as a result of time and deadline pressure, and some groups of students receive informal pressure from the school principal to 'present the school in a good light. After experiencing the ways in which news is shaped, students explore national television news and learn to identify the patterns of coverage. Such activities can promote students' understanding of education for democracy, and the importance of turn-taking, rules of order, and rational discourse which supports the legitimacy of oppositional voices in a public space Katz, , A number of similar programs have been implemented in the United States, including as notable program designed by Karen Webster and Joshua Meyrowitz to introduce 4th graders to newsmaking in a Durham, New Hampshire school.
If one of the fundamental purposes of schools is to teach students the responsibility of living in a democratic society, then building students' tolerance for diverse opinions and the ability to critically analyze information is essential. Schools should not be in the business of preparing "docile, unquestioning workers who will go blindly into the roles assigned them in the great struggle to dominate the world economy. To be human in a democratic society is to be free and to be capable of making conscious, responsible choices.
A democratic society requires that the people shall judge; schools must teach them to judge wisely" Soder, , The institution of public schooling works in powerful ways to reproduce the existing power relations in society, and as a result, schools can be among the most repressive and anti-democratic of social institutions. Deborah Meier , 8 writes of a dramatic example of the "petty humiliations imposed to remind teachers and children of who's the boss," remembering her first to a New York City school where she witnessed the principal scolding students for crossing over a line painted down the middle of the corridor.
The unprofessional working conditions teachers experience, where they have little control or influence over their work, often encourages teachers to withdraw intellectually and emotionally from the enterprise. Schools can promote the kind of apathy and alienation that "are not only one of the main agencies of distributing an effective dominant culture What does it take to create a environment where democratic values are built into the culture of the school?
Deborah Meier describes her efforts to invent a school environment which would make it possible for teachers and students to have high expectations of themselves, "where all kids can experience the power of their ideas" Meier, , 4.
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Meier's commitment to reforming public schools is fueled by her understanding of the relationship between public education and democracy. Her perspective on the possibility that schools can be re-shaped by democratic principles reflects the complexity of this issue: "We also saw schools as examples of the possibilities of democratic community, and what we meant by this was continuously under debate and review. It wasn't simply a question of governance structures, and certainly not a matter of extending the vote to four-year-olds.
Although classroom life could certainly include more participation by children in decisions that traditional schools allowed, we saw it as even more critical that the school life of adults be democratic. It seemed unlikely that we could foster values of community in our classrooms unless the adults in the school had significant rights over their own workplace. For us, democracy implied that people should have a voice not only in their own individual work ,but in the work of others as well. Finally, we saw collaboration and mutual respect among staff, parents, students and the larger community as part of what we mean by calling our experience democratic.
Meier and her colleagues created a school environment based on breaking up huge schools into small schools; for choice within the public school system; for respect between teachers, parents and students; for teaching that connects learning to real-world activities; for a new ideal of being "well-educated," based on the development of the skills of keen observation, playfulness and the possession of a skeptical and open mind, the habit of imagining how others think, feel, and see the world, the ability to be respectful of evidence, to be able to evaluate the quality of information, to value hard work, and to know how to communicate effectively.
Why focus on skills and not subject matter? Broadening the definition of an educated person beyond the mastery of specific facts to promote strong intellectual habits of mind has at its consequence the promotion of curiosity, creativity, theory-building. How best should educators promote student leadership skills and responsible self expression? When Captive Voices was published in , it identified the range of powerful opportunities that scholastic journalism could provide to students, as the school newspaper can create a public voice to share perspectives and viewpoints, to build coalitions and change policies through engaging the community in issues of public concern.
Commissioned by the Robert Kennedy Memorial Foundation, Captive Voices also identified the problems which limited the effectiveness of student journalism. The report was the single largest national inquiry into American high school journalism, and at the time, the findings represented a formidable indictment of the public schools.
According to the report, most high school publications were "bland" and often served as a public relations tool for the school. Yet, according to the report, where a free, vigorous student press did exist, there was a healthy ferment of ideas and opinions with no indication of disruption or negative side effects on the educational experience of the school.
In the 's, high school journalism was given second-class status in the school's curriculum, reflected in the elective nature of journalism courses, since journalism courses did not fulfill academic requirements needed for graduation. Twenty years later, this phenomenon is largely unchanged, and the legal landscape which had protected students' First Amendment rights has deteriorated even further. When the Supreme Court ruled on Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier in in a decision, the status of high school journalism was changed significantly, by giving school administrators the power to censor student newspapers.
In the case, a principal censored a high school student newspaper in Hazelwood, Missouri because of two stories produced by students about teen pregnancy and the effects of divorce on teenagers. In this decision, the court limited the scope of an earlier ruling, Tinker v DesMoines, which made the basic argument that "students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. The Hazelwood decision "aptly illustrates how readily school officials and courts can camouflage viewpoint discrimination as the 'mere' protection of students from sensitive topics.
In response to the ruling, the professional press almost seemed to mock the students for their arrogance in believing they should be allowed to cover what was important to them. A principal is no different from an editor, went the claim in newspaper editorials. Most newspapers avoided noting the role of public school principals as public officials and indirect agents of the government Freedom Forum, The Hazelwood decision had an effect on high schools across the nation and the examples of how school administrators have applied the ruling are chilling.
In Manchester, New Hampshire, a principal shut down the student newspaper after an editorial criticized a teacher for withholding the vote totals in a school election. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, a principal censored a report that documented how a tennis coach improperly charged students for court time.
In Ohio, paramedics were called to the school when a student, who had been drinking alcohol that morning, passed out from alcohol poisoning. The school newspaper was forbidden to write about the event. In Nashville, Tennessee, 19 students were arrested on the first day of school in The principal refused to let students report the incident and the journalism advisor was replaced by someone with no previous newspaper experience.
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