U.S. lacks media literacy education in public schools

DonellProbst9-24-01

Curriculum requirements for high school students in the U.S. encompass the full range of knowledge required to enter adulthood as an informed, functioning citizen. Obvious general education requirements established around core subjects such as math, science, history and English are to be expected, but additional subject matter in the areas of personal finance, health and practical arts have also been deemed crucial for successful participation in adult life.

So where is media literacy in the public education system in the U.S.?

At a time when children have access to multiple forms of media as young as one and two years old, there is a glaring hole in the media literacy toolkit of American students.

For decades, parents have battled the obvious effects of advertisements woven into the fabric of Saturday morning cartoons and after-school programming for young children. With the advent of cable news and the 24-hour news cycle, discernment between fact and fiction in news and political media is difficult for even the most informed viewer. Large media conglomerates, like the Walt Disney Company, whose reach includes ESPN, Pixar, Disney, ABC and Touchstone Pictures, use their far-reaching network and connections to self service extreme profit growth at the viewers' expense.

Whether in the form of advertisements and cross-promotion, or the lack of diversity and perpetuation of stereotypes, the pervasive influence of media in the U.S. is potentially harmful for viewers ignorant of its influence. Yet how many adults in the U.S. are aware of these media manipulations?

Many countries all over the world have media literacy training embedded into their primary and secondary education systems or offer media education classes as elective credits, yet most secondary schools in the U.S. fail to even offer a media literacy elective, let alone as requirement.

Canada has media literacy requirements for their K-12 students. Countries like Sweden, Finland, South Africa, and the U.K. have some form of media literacy education for primary and secondary students. In fact, 70 to 80 percent of all European students receive some media literacy training by the time they graduate high school.

Not only does the U.S. lack a media education requirement in primary or secondary curriculums, it is not even a requirement for students attending college in the US.

So is it any wonder the U.S. has some of the most ill-informed citizens in the world despite our extensive access to a wide array of media and information? The problem seems to lie in the fact that while access to information abounds, Americans are ill-equipped to manage and interpret this information meaningfully.

While the U.S. has made some effort to move toward including media education within the Common Core standards, it is a feeble attempt at best.

Providing media education inclusive of topics like the 24-hour news cycle, conglomerates, perpetuation of social issues and stereotypes, and manipulation of information is not something that can or should be worked into the daily discourse of other subjects. Measurable media literacy outcomes require a focused and structured curriculum independent of other subjects.

Regardless of how academically successful American students may become as education reforms continue, it will all be irrelevant in the digital age if our citizens lack an understanding of how to analyze and interpret the vast amount of information that is encountered every day. Perhaps the U.S. will take a page from the playbook of countries who have opted for a more focused approach to media education within their classrooms and take steps to produce real media education reform.

Reach the columnist at dprobst1@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @DonnellProbst

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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