Critical Media Literacy as Transformative Pedagogy

Critical Media Literacy as Transformative Pedagogy

Steven Funk (University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), USA), Douglas Kellner (University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), USA) and Jeff Share (University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 30
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9667-9.ch001
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This chapter provides a theoretical framework of critical media literacy (CML) pedagogy and examples of practical implementation in K-12 and teacher education. It begins with a brief discussion of literature indicating the need for educators to use a critical approach to media. The historical trajectory of CML and key concepts are then reviewed. Following this, the myths of “neutrality” and “normalcy” in education and media are challenged. The chapter takes a critical look at information and communication technologies and popular culture, reviewing how they often reinforce and occasionally challenge dominant ideologies. Next, this critical perspective is used to explore how CML interrogates the ways media tend to position viewers, users, and audiences to read and negotiate meanings about race, class, gender, and the multiple identity markers that privilege dominant groups. The subjective and ubiquitous nature of media is highlighted to underscore the transformative potential of CML to use media tools for promoting critical thinking and social justice in the classroom.
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As new technologies open opportunities for collaboration and media production that is cheaper, easier and more accessible than ever, and as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) spread across the country, now is the time for educators to explore the transformative potential of critical media literacy (CML). Current pressures for standardization, privatization, and high-stakes testing are driving public education to focus more on global competition rather than on democratic ideals. In this chapter, we propose that CML pedagogy is an important strategy for educators to use to strengthen civic engagement and reassert the promise of democracy with an informed and empowered citizenry. Moreover, a CML pedagogy is vital to include in teacher education programs so that pre-service teachers are better prepared to guide their students in critical inquiry with and about information communication technologies (ICTs) and popular culture.

As Paulo Freire (2010), Howard Zinn (2005), and many others assert, recognizing the political nature of education and literacy is essential for transformative teaching and democracy. CML is a pedagogy that guides teachers and students to think critically about the world around them; it empowers them to act as responsible citizens with the skills and social consciousness to challenge injustice. The development of CML highlights core concepts from cultural studies, critical theory, and new digital literacies (boyd, 2014; Ferguson, 2004; Hall, 1998; Kellner, 1995; Masterman, 2001; Morrell, 2012). CML provides a framework that encourages people to read information critically in multiple formats, to create alternative representations that question hierarchies of power, social norms and injustices, and to become agents of change.

Technology’s exponential growth, as well as the convergence of media corporations and new media platforms, are changing society and students to be more mediated and networked than ever (Jenkins, 2006; McChesney, 2000; Prensky, 2010). Facebook, created in 2004, already reports one fifth of the world’s population as active users, 829 million of whom use it daily (Facebook, 2014). Millions of American youth walk into their classrooms with pocket-sized devices that provide immediate access to information and entertainment as well as the potential to create and disseminate multimedia messages that can travel the world in seconds. In 2011, Pew researchers reported that 77% of U.S. teens had a cellular device (Lenhart, Madden, Smith, Purcell, Zickhur, & Rainie, 2011). A Northwestern study conducted the same year found that 8-18 year-olds in the U.S. spent well over ten hours a day exposed to various forms of media, such as music, computers, video games, television, film, and print (Rideout, Lauricella, & Wartella, 2011). In 2015, another Pew research study found that 92% of American 13-17 year-olds go online daily, “including 24% who say they go online ‘almost constantly’” (Lenhart, 2015). Clearly, these data reflect the need for educators to address the changing relationship between youth and digital media.

CML offers students and educators an opportunity to embrace these changes in society and technology not as threats to education, but rather to rethink teaching and learning as political acts of consciousness raising and empowerment. While the CCSS has its wealth of problems (Brady, 2012; Karp, 2014), it can also be a tool to support educators in moving toward a more critical approach to incorporating literacy across all subjects and encouraging students to participate in their learning with and about digital tools. The attention of the CCSS to media and technology is movement in the right direction (Moore & Bonilla, 2014); however, more use of media and technology does not necessarily beget better learning or critical engagement. Media and technology are not neutral tools. Rather, they are themselves embedded within socio-political contexts, as Stoddard (2014) explains:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Objectivity: The notion that things exist independently outside of human subjectivity, thereby having neutral and unbiased cognitive status. Objectivity became the goal, or dominant ideal of knowing, based primarily upon Descartes’ 17th century theories on dualism (the mind-body and subject-object split) in which objects are seen to exist outside of the subject, who is interpreted as a neutral observer of the external world.

Critical: Critical analysis involves examining a text (whether a media representation, cultural artifact, practice, or other communicative act) for the purpose of considering its myriad connections/intersections with contextual factors and the ways that culture reproduces dominant relations of power and subordination and thus serves the interests of ruling groups.

Normality/Normalcy: Is rooted in the concept of probability originally stemming from the field of Mathematics. Used in popular culture, the term denotes a sense of predictability in behavior, identity, or expression, and thereby connotes a sense of social correctness, cultural acceptability, and/or representations among dominant media programming which reproduce the standards and dominant ideas and social behavior as “natural” and “normal.”

Ideology: A domain of ideas that represents the ruling ideas in a society as “natural” and self-evident. Developed by Marx to critique the dominant ideas of the ruling class, the concept has been extended to describe ideas and representations that naturalize relations of power and subordination in the areas of gender, race, sexuality, and other domains of society, as well as class. Ideological perspectives that are hegemonic, or dominant, are often so ingrained or habitual as to be undetectable without the practice of critical reflection.

Representation: Material presented through a medium of communication (aural, visual, tactile, etc.). A representation is never neutral because it is always shaped by people (all with distinct subjectivities) who decide what and how to represent, as well as the structures of the media and dominant cultural forms through which it is created, captured, and shared.

Gender-Creative: Also known as gender non-conforming, not in relation to sexual orientation, but identity. These terms connote that an individual expresses a gender identity that is either different from the one assigned at birth (transgender), or one that cannot be (or refuses to be) defined within the male/female binary.

Transformative Pedagogy: A progressive educational approach that includes democratic constructivist-based pedagogy for the promotion of social justice and democratic ideals to transform students and society. Transformative pedagogy empowers learners to engage in dialogue to co-construct meaning from educational material and experiences through an inquiry-based approach (as opposed to what Paulo Freire calls a “banking” orientation). It also promotes personal experiences, dialogical pedagogy, and aligning education with social justice.

Naturalize: To explain an existing phenomenon, behavior, or trait by linking it to an imagined proper order found in religious texts, cultural presumptions about nature and the animal kingdom, and dominant ideologies and social conceptions. When a concept, such as heterosexuality, is “naturalized,” to be the unquestionable norm of human relations, it stigmatizes other forms of human interaction such as homosexuality as unnatural and problematic, and thus helps reproduce dominant ideology.

Intersectionality: recognition of the way different identities and forms of oppression, privilege, and/or identity overlap and interact. People are influenced by numerous dimensions of identities that change in different contexts and interact with each other at different times in various ways.

Cultural Studies: An interdisciplinary field of critical inquiry that was developed by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham in the 1960s in England that continues to expand globally, offering critical insights into cultural practices and artifacts (some of which involve popular culture and media). The field of cultural studies examines the ways in which contemporary cultural practices create and are created by social forces and relationships with ways of knowing and controlling power.

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