Thomas and Jolls - Section 1 Essential Issues of Media...

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Section 1: Essential Issues of Media Literacy Education Media Literacy—A National Priority for a Changing World ELIZABETH THOMAN TESSA JOLLS Center for Media Literacy The convergence of media and technology in a global culture is changing the way we learn about the world and challenging the very foundations of education. No longer is it enough to be able to read the printed word; children, youth, and adults need the ability to critically interpret the powerful images of a multimedia culture. Media literacy education provides a framework and a pedagogy for the new literacy needed for living, working, and citizenship in the 21st century. Moreover, it paves the way to mastering the skills required for lifelong learning in a constantly changing world. Keywords: media; literacy; media literacy; media education; pedagogy THE CHALLENGES OF A MULTIMEDIA WORLD Since the beginning of recorded history, the concept of literacy meant having the skill to interpret “squiggles” on a piece of paper as letters that when put together, formed words that conveyed meaning. Teaching young people to put the words together to understand (and in turn, express) ever more complex ideas became the goal of education as it evolved over the centuries. Today, information about the world around us comes to us not only by words on a piece of paper but also, more and more, through the powerful images and sounds of our multimedia culture. From the clock radio that wakes us up in the morning until we fall asleep watching the late night talk show, we are exposed to hundreds—even thousands—of images and ideas from not only television but also Web sites, movies, talk radio, magazine covers, e-mail, video games, music, cell phone messages, billboards, and more. Media no longer just shape our culture—they are our culture. 18 AMERICAN BEHAVIORAL SCIENTIST, Vol. 48 No. 1, September 2004 18-29 DOI: 10.1177/0002764204267246 © 2004 Sage Publications
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Although mediated messages appear to be self-evident, in truth, they use a complex audio/visual “language” that has its own rules (grammar), and that can be used to express many-layered concepts and ideas about the world. Not everything may be obvious at first; and images go by so fast! If our children are to be able to navigate their lives through this multimedia culture, they need to be fluent in “reading” and “writing” the language of images and sounds just as we have always taught them to read and write the language of printed communications. Author Douglas Rushkoff (1996) has called the current youth generation “screen-agers” because their media use is not distinguished specifically as tele- vision or video games or movies or computers—or even telephones—but sim- ply as a series of screens that they both access and manipulate in a constantly evolving stream of shared communication. This capability, in turn, is transform- ing the use and impact of media in everyday life: Screen-agers see media not as discrete products that can affect them or their cul- ture but as elements of a multimedia mosaic that is their culture.
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