Critical Media Literacy comes from the same Woke Playbook
Last month, the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) announced its annual conference announcing “Media Literacy Has Many Links with Social Justice”; In fact, many would say media literacy is social justice. ”How could that be the case? Through “critical media literacy”, which NAMLE defines as a tool to understand “the relationships between media, information and power”. It turns out that Critical Media Literacy (CML) plays an important role in media literacy education – and that’s not a good sign.
Critical media literacy was omnipresent at the conference. It was mentioned in the descriptions of 17 presentations. Far from an obscure organization hosting a fringe conference, NAMLE publishes its own academic journal, boasts of being the “leading nonprofit membership organization” in promoting media literacy, and receives funding from TikTok, Facebook, Twitter , Amazon Studios and the State Department.
But what exactly is this pedagogy? The Critical Media Literacy Guide, a book by UCLA Professors Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share, provides a comprehensive and influential synopsis. Kellner and Share cite Marx’s observation that “in every era the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class” to argue that media literacy should be taught through the lens of power and identity groups. Critical media literacy tries to undermine what it sees as the predominant institutions of western capitalist society – or, to use academic jargon, to promote “counter-hegemonic alternatives”.
If CML starts with Marx, it is complemented by the ideology of today’s faculty lounge. According to Kellner and Share, whose book was quoted at the NAMLE conference, critical media literacy explicitly refers to postmodernism, critical theory, intersectionality and “point of view epistemology”. Pedagogy, they say, “suggests using all relevant contemporary critical theories”. They claim that “the concept of intersectionality offers a powerful lens to uncover the intersections of oppression and domination across classes, races, genders and other forms of oppression”. Kellner and Share argue that students should focus on their identities and learn to expose certain political views – such as belief in free markets or color blindness – as ideological tools that strengthen existing power structures. Teachers, they say, should apply the concept of microaggression: “It is important that educators help students focus on the effects, not the intent, because the negative effects of microaggression are harmful, whether they were intentional or not . ”Her recommendations for classrooms are no less substantial and describe the Genderbread Person and the Gender Unicorn as“ helpful tools ”.[s]. “
In practice, CML is all-encompassing. Since questions of power and identity lurk behind all information, Kellner and Share argue that critical media literacy belongs in every subject. In math, “students can analyze how numbers are used to aid or undermine problems with graphics and statistics, showing that any medium, number, word, image, or sound is a social construction.” Class ready to expose gender inequality in sport ”. Music classes “provide opportunities to explore the uses of sound in films to tell stories and how protest songs stimulate social movements”.
Changing society is a clear goal. In a section titled “Challenges for Creating Social Justice Educators,” the authors describe how pedagogy “aims to empower teachers and students with a sense of civic responsibility to address social problems with advanced solutions, often media and technology include”. The ultimate goal is to “provide social justice teachers with ideas and strategies to inspire their students to act”.
The NAMLE conference provides examples of what this means in the classroom. Three experts from the fields of DEI, Critical Race Theory, [and] Critical Media Literacy ”outlines a“ framework for system change that embeds social justice and anti-racism work in media literacy ”. In another, a speaker explains how to “combine critical media literacy with mindfulness and storytelling practices”. Another explains how teachers and students can “disrupt” conventional social science practices “through the tools of critical media literacy”.
The CML pedagogy was integrated into the teaching material. Many NAMLE presentations highlight organizations that have already adopted it. These include the Critical Media Project, a student and teacher resource that focuses on “the intersection of media, identity and power,” and Wide Angle Media, a Baltimore-based media education organization that promotes its work “as a way of advancement.” sees social justice. “
Many influential not-for-profit organizations have adopted the CML principles, particularly its focus on student advocacy. The Civic Engagement Research Group, a civic resource hub, has published media literacy videos touting its utility for student activism. Another influential group offers a “Youth Media-Making Toolkit” with dozen of media representation lessons culminating in a “Call to Action” segment and an “Amplify and Advocate Project”. And NAMLE itself hosts a page with resources on race, justice and social justice with many materials that were also taken directly from the manual by Kellner and Share. The linked lessons include titles such as “Black Lives Matter and Climate Change: What’s the Connection?” And “You, She, He Just Like ABC: Understanding Names, Pronouns, and Gender Expression.” The latter, a lesson on gender pronouns, is intended for kindergarten through second grade.
The federal government endeavors to finance curricula for media literacy. Last month, the Department of Education revised its civics and history scholarship requirements to remove controversial references to the 1619 Project and Ibram X. Kendi’s writings. But “information literacy” remains one of two main funding priorities that are sufficiently defined to also include critical media literacy. And the proposed Civics Secures Democracy Act, which would give nonprofits $ 1 billion for curriculum research and development, makes media literacy a priority.
Equipping children with the ability to understand the world is a laudable goal that would seriously hamper critical media literacy.
Photo by Jeremy Papaso / Digital First Media / Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images
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