A moment for media awareness, part I

Watch this video of a sleepy baby and his big brother. Watch as much as you can — it takes more than two minutes for the clip to reach its inevitable conclusion:

So, what did you think? Were you amused? disturbed? fascinated? frustrated? provoked? all the above?

Welcome to media literacy education!

Media literacy is the ability to access, read, analyze, evaluate, and create communication in a variety of multimedia and mass media forms. It is the outcome of a curriculum in which media are the focus of instruction, not just the means of instruction. For more details visit the Center for Media Literacy web site.

This is the first in a series of posts in honor of Canada’s National Media Education Week.

As far as I know, we in the United States don’t have an equivalent week to call our own. While several national media education organizations and conferences have emerged in the last ten years, a unified vision of media education — such as what is practiced in South Africa, the UK, and New Zealand and what was articulated by the 29th General Conference of the United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) — remains elusive in the U.S.

Robert Kubey has written about the obstacles to media education in the U.S., noting the sheer size of the country and the reluctance on the part of the federal government to overtly drive national curriculum standards. Media educators must also overcome a general disdain for attempts to mix traditional curriculum with elements of popular culture.

On a positive note, a systematic study of state frameworks performed by Kubey and Frank Baker reveals that media education principles have found their way into at least some curriculum standards in all 50 states (as of 2000), mostly in a cross-curricular fashion. Subject areas most likely to include media education elements are health, consumer sciences, social studies, and, of course, English/language arts.

Only seven states offer an actual media education strand.

A systematic approach to media education may be missing in our schools, but opportunities for media education abound, which brings me back to the sleep baby video.

I’m venturing to guess reactions to that video range from mild amusement to moral outrage, and the spectrum of responses invoked by the video point to the varied purposes and paradigms currently underlying national and international media literacy initiatives.

In his book Visual Messages: Integrating Imagery into Instruction, David Considine nicely summarizes purposes of media education as follows:

  • protection-teaching individuals how to resist media’s harmful effects
  • preparation-guiding individuals to internalize the intellectual and affective skills necessary for processing and filtering the multitude of media messages encountered in daily life
  • pleasure-celebrating and cultivating an appreciation for the many surprising and enriching encounters afforded by living in a media-saturated world

Historically, media education’s roots are in the protection paradigm, and that paradigm still has a lot of sway in the U.S. among politicians and advocacy groups. Media education theorists, however, have favored a paradigm shift in recent decades that is less reactionary regarding media consumption habits and more constructivist in approach. And in-the-trenches media educators will swear by the pleasure paradigm as the best inroad for engaging and motivating students.

So, take a moment to reflect on the sleepy baby video: what does it suggest to you about media education?

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1 Response to “A moment for media awareness, part I”


  1. 1 Ms. Whatsit 15 November, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    Wow! So simple, yet so thought provoking.

    Okay, so I know that the video was made to entertain; and judging by the comments left by the YouTube audience, it succeeds doing so. I understand that popular culture operates that way these days. However, that the adult filming this didn’t put the baby down disturbs me greatly. Does the human need to reach out, communicate and entertain override common sense?

    At the same time, I read what you have to say about media education, and I question whether or not my maternal outrage instinct is overreacting.

    All I know is that nodding in and out like that doesn’t feel good when it happens to me.


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