Media Literacy: The New Basic

Media Literacy: The New Basic introduces one of the fastest growing and most urgently needed movements in American education. In this latest release from the makers of the acclaimed On Television series, teachers, parents, industry insiders and critics argue that media education must become the core curriculum for the Information Age - and show how it can be done. But it is the students themselves, who offer the most impressive proof that media literacy's time has come. As an 11 year old from Brooklyn says, "Viewers are going to see kids that understand TV, that can see right through it."

Narrator John Merrow, an educator and journalist, reminds us that, for better or worse, media have become the primary means by which Americans receive information and ideas. Elementary school kids describe television as "my best friend" and "a member of the family." Appalling clips from teen programming confirm Rutgers professors Benjamin Barber and Robert Kubey's warning that television has become "a rival education system" teaching buying, selling and greed.

Television senior statesmen, Walter Cronkite and Hugh Downs, believe that understanding how - and why - the media works is essential training for any citizen of the electronic world. All Americans, they predict, will need to know how both to "read and write" the media if they are to have equal access to the Information Superhighway.

But what is media literacy? The program shows students practicing its four tenets: access, analysis, evaluation and production of media. Teacher trainer David Considine explains that it's not just learning the grammar and syntax of media, but also deciphering the motivations and assumptions behind them. Teachers demonstrate how media literacy can be integrated across existing curricula, bringing the "old basics" into the multi-media future.

New Jersey English teacher, Ellen Krueger, uses prime- time series like to teach composition and analysis. In a Brooklyn social studies class, students produce a public service announcement on conflict resolution. At an on- going Middletown, NY project, students learn about science, composition, government by producing a documentary exposing hazardous waste at a local landfill.

In Media Literacy: The New Basic, educators and advocates like Renee Hobbs, Kathryn Montgomery and Elizabeth Thoman share their experiences organizing grassroots media education campaigns for their school districts. D. D. Downs tells how she brought together a coalition of New Mexico teachers, government leaders and media professionals to win a state-wide commitment to media literacy. In concluding, John Merrow challenges the viewer, "Are you going to participate in programming the media or are you going to sit back and let the media program you?"

Media and Society


Producer: The On Television Project at Rutgers University
Director/Writer: Mary Megee
56 minutes, 1996

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