Literacy Today = Media Literacy

Lexington's community forum about the positive and negative impact of media on societal behavior and the development of children got me thinking about our current media landscape and what individuals, families, and communities can do to improve positive outcomes. The forum was held on October 10th at Lexington High School and was co-sponsored by the School Committee, League of Women Voters, and numerous Town and School Department groups, and individuals.

The impact of media on children is always a topic of concern and today's media landscape has dramatically changed over the last decade; all of us are now living in a world of 24/7 media saturation. One startling finding of a Kaiser Family Foundation survey (2010) showed that young people are devoting more than 7.5 hours each day with entertainment media - an increase of 1 hour and 17 minutes since 2004. The survey also found that:
"...because they spend so much of that time 'media multi-tasking' (using more than one device/medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those 7..."
Schools and individual teachers are working to bring media literacy to students, but media literacy is not broadly implemented in our public schools and media literacy is rarely part of the public debate on education. A bill in the Massachusetts State Legislature (S.213) proposes to change that.

S.213/H.472 (language is identical in both bills) would bring media literacy education to all Massachusetts K-12 public school classrooms. Media literacy education teaches students to apply critical thinking to messaging and to use media to create their own messages. It's a methodology, a pedagogy, a strategy and key skill that's vital to the health and well-being of all children, as well as to their participation in the civic and economic life of our democracy.

The irony is that, used well, media can entertain and inform our children in positive ways. However, since most children are not taught to use media thoughtfully, they are not able to think critically about it's content. Research shows that media literacy education has been effective in reducing risky behaviors among children and youth of all ages and for all topics of focus, such as tobacco use, violence, and sex.

Media Literacy Now, a 501(c)4 non-profit organization focusing on grassroots and legislative media literacy activity for K-12 schools in each state, has formed a coalition in support of S.213. Public testimony is being planned to present to the Joint Committee on Education's public hearing on Thursday, October 31, 2013. If you are interested in being in touch with parents, teachers, and others working for media literacy education in our schools, visit their website, where you can learn more about media literacy and sign up to join their mailing list. Watch on this site, too, for updates to this issue.

Panel members, Anthony Brooks, moderator
Tom Fiedler, Dean, College of Communication, Boston University
Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D. Professor Emerita, Lesley University
Michael Rich, MD, MPH, Director and Founder of the Center on Media and