Monday, 11 July 2011

What do we tell the children?


My daughter Kate won a student journalism award last term. The prize? A week's internship on the Features department at The News of the World. As a father I felt it my duty to make that joke about the second prize being two weeks and, equally dutifully, nobody laughed. In fact she ended up doing two weeks there anyway. She left just before the phone hacking scandal broke. While there she made some gently liberal enquiries of employees as to their justifications working there - to which a general response seemed to be "it's a job" or "we're just giving the punters what they want". She was impressed by how hard everyone worked, but also concerned by the amount of pressure to produce the goods - Blackberries to all employees for 24/7 communications and all...
She's been at home for the last week and so had the opportunity and the understandable inclination to follow the whole story as it was breaking.  The Guardian has deservedly been making the most of the story.   Simon Hoggart put his finger firmly on the pulse when he wrote "Like political prisoners no longer in fear of a tyrant, a liberated Commons did their best to exhaust section 867 of the thesaurus". 
Today, reading yet another Guardian article about the awfulness of News Corp, I began to get the faintly bilious feeling reading the tabloids often produces in me... and I realised that all week, I had been secretly indulging in the sickly pleasure to be derived from feeling you are a better human being than those under examination.

As a media educator I'm left wondering what we can do? Certainly it's a story that needs to be discussed and followed over the coming months. Crucially though, we must create opportunities to develop learners' critical awareness of the "information" we are surrounded by.  And what does developing critical awareness look like for five, eight or eleven year olds? And should we be telling them anything or exploring the issues? 
Too complex for a single blog post, I fear, but this week has certainly offered me a salutary reminder of what my student teacher heroes* said we should be teaching: that most subversive attribute - anthropological perspective. The recent MEA book I contributed to, Teaching Media in Primary Schools has a section devoted to exploring some ideas about critical awareness, and I'm sure the editor Cary Bazalgette was right to point up the close ties between teaching philosophy and media in her recent blog post

But perhaps a good starting place for teachers might be by remembering the dangers of "just giving the punters what they want". The 'punters' need their assumptions challenging and to be regularly encouraged to look below the often seductively shiny surfaces presented by the media.

* Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner "Teaching as a Subversive Activity"

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Begin Hacking Now!
Interestingly, just a few moments googling found this...