Media Literacy Education

Advocates in support of the Media Literacy Bill (S.213) were in good company in Room A-1 of the State House on the morning of October 31st. Below is the testimony of Christina Brown on behalf of the Massachusetts PTA, followed by my testimony on behalf of the MASC Legislative Committee.

My name is Christina Brown; I am a parent, educator, and a proud member of the Massachusetts Parent TeacherAssociation, an affiliate of National PTA, the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association in the country, here to speak on behalf of the needs of families, parents, and children.  

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on the critical issue facing children in the 21st Century, media literacy. Right now there are children all over the Commonwealth who have in their hands, in their lockers, and in their backpacks devices that connect them to the greatest collection of marketing, images, information, videos, social media, and personal data collection tools in the history of our species. This portable collection of media grows exponentially every day and our digital natives naively assume that knowing how to manipulate the functions of these devices means they understand and can make wise decisions about the content that pours out in torrents. 

As a parent of a second-grader, I know my days of having control over the media that my child has access to are limited.  My ban on his using electronic devices that connect him to this collection of media could end any moment as there is no place a child can go where there are not smart phones and tablets. I know full well that this media is as valuable as it is his dangerous to his development and socialization. I also know there are marketers doing brain research at this moment to understand how to keep him engaged and on their screen. I know that he hears my voice in his head asking him to think critically, ask himself what is being sold to him, is this true, what is the evidence for the veracity of the claim that comes with deceptively attractive graphics and colors? But I know parents can't do this alone.

This bill asks that in addition to their families' voices, children in the Commonwealth also hear the voices of their well-trained and skilled teachers who are provided with resources to support the development of media literacy in our children. Teachers can join parents on the frontline and add to the knowledge and volume of critical questions children ask themselves as they use new technology and navigate our 21st Century world. In the same way MA teachers will for thirteen years support children's development as literate individual who are prepared for college and career as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners as detailed in the MA Frameworks, there is a desperate need for this comprehensive literacy instruction to fully include media literacy to support students in navigating a and increasingly complex media landscape.

The Mass PTA Position on Consumerism dedicates us to:
I. support efforts to protect children from exploitive marketing through advocacy, education, and collaboration; and
II. To support, expand, and improve efforts to inform parents on media and technology safety issues.

The Mass PTA Position on Technology in Schools dedicates us to:
I. Support, expand, and improve efforts that increase knowledge and skills for students to access, analyze, evaluate, navigate, and communicate a variety of media messages from the internet and other media sources.

The Mass PTA Position on Education of the Whole Child dedicates us to:
I. Support, expand and improve resources to ensure schools give every child access to a rich array of subjects and address children's basic emotional and physical needs.
II. Support, expand, and improve resources to ensure children are healthy, engaged, supported, challenged, and safe.

Media education is about making sure that students are prepared to think critically and ask the right questions throughout the 21st Century and into the 22nd Century. And it is essential, now more than ever that we give them skills they need for the lifetime that extends well-beyond their K-12 years. Thank you.

Christina Brown,
Massachusetts PTA
405 Waltham Street, #147
Lexington MA 02421

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Honorable Co-Chairs, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on the importance of Media Literacy in Education. I speak as a school committee member and member of the Massachusetts Association of School Committee’s Legislative Committee.

Members of locally elected school committees are very sensitive to public policy overload, education legislation, or any legislation that would mandate course curriculum content. At a meeting of the MASC Legislative Committee last Thursday night, members thoughtfully considered, then voted unanimously to support S.213 for the following reasons:
  • The Bill is not written as a mandate. Media literacy is pedagogy, a method of teaching, not a subject area. One can incorporate media literacy into any subject. So, it’s not an add-on, but rather a powerful way to teach a subject that is relevant and engaging to kids who live in a powerful 24/7 media environment.
  • The MTA endorses S.213 and has been on board as long as the Massachusetts PTA.
  • It’s a matter of equity. Some districts already recognize that media literacy is written into the Common Core State Standards and those districts are moving forward to integrate media analysis; students risk falling behind schools and districts that are doing a better job preparing their students for work and life.
  • This Bill calls upon the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to assist districts with implementing comprehensive media literacy education for the purpose of developing stronger critical analysis skills and independent thinking skills; these skills are in tune with curriculum frameworks aligned to Common Core State Standards and necessary for navigating our media-saturated world.

Today, literacy means media literacy. When you consider that nearly 6 trillion ads are displayed online each year[1], 400 million tweets are sent daily[2], and 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every day[3], it’s vital that students question and understand media’s commercial and political messages –– and to create their own messages and responses to 24/7 media. Thank you.

Mary Ann Stewart
Lexington MA 02420