The Importance of Media Literacy in This (and in Every) Moment

The Importance of Media Literacy in This (and in Every) Moment

Image credit: ElAlispruz, cc-by-2.0.

by The Educator Collaborative Associate Member Christie Nold

As a person who has specialized in history, both academically and professionally, I have been taught to “read like an historian.” In this field, we are encouraged to bring a critical lens to the circumstances surrounding a text. To consider the source of a text. Who wrote it? When? What was happening at the time, and who was the writer’s intended audience? 

We also seek out missing pieces and perspectives. Whose voices have gone unheard or were intentionally silenced? Why? Is there a power imbalance? The underlying assumption is that all people come with both perspective and bias. Even in our best attempts, we understand that our positionality does not disappear in our writing or scholarship. This does not require us to then disregard a text, but rather to contextualize it. 

In many ways, I approach media literacy in the same vein. Rather than separate the author from a text, I encourage the students in my classroom to work to understand the perspective they bring. Some of the questions we might grapple with include:

  • Is the author affiliated with a larger media network? If so, what is their reputation? 
  • When was this author writing? What was happening in the world at the time? 
  • What is it you feel this author wanted us to believe to be true about the world? Why? 

Not only do I believe media literacy is an essential tool to better understand people, places, and events, but also I feel it has the power to engage us in a deeper sense of curiosity and to build connections. Media literacy forces the reader to slow down and build background knowledge. When reading about potentially difficult events, it allows us to take a breath and wonder why. It also presents the opportunity to consider who we aren’t yet hearing from and seek out those voices and perspectives. In addition, media literacy helps us recognize that our view of the world is often inextricably linked to our identities and experiences, and therefore requires that we also better understand ourselves. How am I reacting to this text? Why am I reacting in this way? How might others engage with this text and why?

Media literacy can also help us make sense of conflicting narratives and offer a doorway into conversations about incredibly challenging events. I’m home with my daughter for the year, but were I in the classroom today, I might offer my students the chance to compare and contrast the recent broadcast from WKCR, the student journalists at Columbia University, and CNN’s reporting of the NYPD arrests on April 30th. 

As the events unfolded, there were important differences in reporting. Together, we would seek out those differences and begin to ask why. I’d encourage students to consider both the proximity to the events and the perspectives of the journalists. From there, I might ask which stories they believe belong in the historical record and to explain their stance. Importantly, students would not be asked to “take a side” on the evolving university student protests, but to better understand what is happening on the ground and why who we are hearing from matters. 

While I understand many who engage with The Educator Collaborative come from an English language arts background, I’d encourage anyone to use this approach. What might it look like to explore the lived experiences of authors who write fictional texts? For example, why does it matter that George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1949? How do his experiences with the imperial police in Burma and as a soldier during the Spanish Civil War impact his writing? Additionally, how are students responding to 1984 today? What about their identities and experiences might be at the heart of their reactions? 

Through bringing critical questioning and greater context to our reading, I believe we can better understand texts, the world, and ourselves. 


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