Watertown non-profit organization that works to promote media literacy
With longer screen time due to the coronavirus pandemic, teens are facing a volatile news cycle filled with political and racial divisions, according to Belmont-based Erin McNeill, founder of Media Literacy Now, based in Watertown.
McNeill’s mission is to make media literacy widely understood and accepted as an integral part of public school education across the country.
Today, more than ever, students of all ages are bombarded with pictures, words, and messages through social media, news, television, music, video games, and other media.
“We are committed to our goal of a society where all students are taught to understand, criticize and rethink media systems that perpetuate racism, inequality and violence,” said McNeill.
Your organization is leading grassroots efforts at the local and state levels to incorporate media literacy education into public schools. Efforts include educating MPs, representatives, and senators at state assemblies about the importance of media literacy education and advocating for school and school district leaders.
McNeill began to reflect on the importance of media literacy education through her own parenting experiences when her two sons, now 22 and 24 respectively, were children. She was concerned about what they saw and how it affected them.
“We all need these reading and writing skills to find our way around the world we live in,” she said.
McNeill gave recent examples of the dangers of a lack of media literacy such as people who do not accept the results of the presidential election, get caught up in conspiracy theories, fail to understand what health information to look out for, extremism and radicalization.
“We are seeing skyrocketing levels of anxiety and depression among young people attributed to how social media affects them in their lives and affects them emotionally and socially. Cyberbullying is also dangerous and prone to predators, ”McNeill said. Adding many websites is created to get an emotional response.
She founded her organization in 2013. Since then, it has grown to 13 chapters across the country. The organization provides toolkits that contain sample letters for advocates to write, tips on forming coalitions and organizing people, and fact sheets for policy makers.
McNeill is working on a Massachusetts bill for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to enable professional development for media literacy education in public schools.
McNeill managed to get Chenery Middle School in Belmont to include media literacy in their curriculum through a grant from the Foundation for Belmont Education. The scholarship was used for professional development in the field of media literacy.
Karen Duff, Librarian / Media Teacher at Chenery, has developed a media literacy curriculum for high school students that includes advertising media and the history of broadcast media. She created a green room / broadcast room in the library and a news hour elective where students can take on the role of journalist, research an interesting topic and then record their story in the studio that helps create the Belmont Media Center Has.
Duff said media literacy is essential for students in today’s media-rich, 24/7 culture. She also addresses media bias around race, gender, and other identities, as well as cyber security and digital citizenship.
“Learning the skills to analyze and decipher the messages embedded in their games, TV shows, YouTube and social media will help them with their critical thinking skills and help them become intelligent consumers of products and information and have a clearer understanding about the role of the media in our culture and how they can shape our worldview, “she said.
For more information on Media Literacy Now, visit medialiteracynow.org or call 617 744-9563.