Emphasis on Media Literacy
Emphasis on Media Literacy Helps Students at All Division Levels Think Critically about Their World
"Media literacy," says Marilyn Meyerson, Chair of the Library and Technology Department at Key School, "is the ability to think critically about all forms of media and to have insight into the implications of what we see and hear in the media, whether it be advertising, television, the Internet, music, or any other form of public communication."
Children's lives are saturated with media messages, from Saturday morning cartoons sandwiched between advertisements to the latest movies at the mall. Yet few schools undertake to educate their students about the modern media that target them. Key School is in the forefront of independent schools that foster and support media awareness throughout its curriculum. Its emphasis on media literacy and critical thinking skills is in many ways an outgrowth of Key values and approaches to education.
This past term, Mrs. Meyerson and Upper School librarian Nancy Fitch initiated the Upper School elective Media Wise: Decoding the Message. "We wanted our students to not only absorb the media messages that surround them, but also to stop and think about them....Why are the makers of these messages saying what they're saying? What are they not saying? What do they want us to do? How are they overtly and subtly attempting to influence our thought and behavior? Are stereotypes and biases displayed or hidden?"
By the time students reach the Upper School, they have been exposed to countless media messages. The elective course, piloted this past term, sought to make students more conscious of the influences of these messages. In addition to their work of tabulating, examining, and interpreting the information received from the media, the students worked to gain insight into the editorial process that shapes media messages.
The class invited a number of outside speakers, including Distinguished Visitor Amanda Weathersby, former CEO of TWG, Inc., an international marketing firm; Edie Magnus, Middle School Head Dave Magnus's sister who is a correspondent for Dateline NBC; and Didi Schanche, NPR foreign desk editor and Key School parent. These visitors brought the "behind the scenes" view to the classroom, helping to make students more aware of the how the message is constructed and to what purpose.
Media literacy is an idea that has a place in the Key School curriculum not only at the Upper School level, but also in the Lower and Middle Schools. Lower School students, supported by librarians Angela McCauley and Pilar Wyman and technology teacher Lydia Crooks, learn to assess the relative value of different sources of information through library and classroom research projects. In the Middle School, librarians Wendy Braithwaite and Stuart Wilson have introduced a media literacy component into the seventh grade computer curriculum, providing a political analysis that compliments the Civics program. Also, media literacy workshops have been held throughout the year for Lower, Middle and Upper School parents to alert them to the role media plays in their children's lives.
It is natural that media literacy in the Key curriculum has its roots in the Library and Technology Department. As Mrs. Meyerson explains, "Librarians are interested in 'information literacy.' We're always looking at what information we can get, its authority and credentials, who creates it and why. This is all part and parcel of media literacy."
Written in The Key Review, Spring 2004