Archive for the ‘Social Studies’ Category

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-6-50-48-pmThis article by Google (about their own initiative) highlights interesting work in technology applications used to study and evaluate gender roles onscreen in film and to use data to analyze screen time by gender in a variety of movies.  This resource can be of value in media literacy work that explores gender bias and social implications of media messages.  For further research, there are many resources available through the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

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Continuing in a series of posts about the importance of language in the work of media literacy, it is clear that the proper use of words will continue to be a topic of utmost importance to educators today.  In the previous post, the use — and more importantly, egregious misuse — of the term “fake news” was discussed.  Today, we investigate those greedy, fearsome creatures hiding under bridges in wait for all of the Internet’s unsuspecting billy goats, threatening to “gobble them up!” — the hideous Troll!

Regularly, many websites and public posts use terms to describe behaviors that evolved out of the use of digital social media: in this case, the verb “to troll” and the related personal description of “the troll.”  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a troll is “a person who intentionally antagonizes others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content” and to troll is “to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content.”  And, regularly, this behavior is done anonymously.  For teachers, these definitions are also important because these terms and the behavior they describe work with strong parallels to bullying, which is a topic of significant implications of professional and legal responsibility to educators.

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-1-06-38-pmHowever, as with a wide range of terms to describe behaviors that reflect the aggressive, damaging, and purposefully hurtful exchanges commonly viewed in web-based communicative platforms, the use of vocabulary can become twisted to minimize or distort the original meaning so that it becomes a hollow, warped, or virtually meaningless version of its original sense.  In practice, a word can just turn into a big joke.

On numerous recent occasions, I have witnessed the word “troll” used in this way.  Just this past weekend, President Donald Trump erroneously referred to “what’s happening last night in Sweden,” as if there had been a terrorist attack in this Scandinavian country.  Elected officials and media outlets in Europe — and in America — reacted with a mixture of bafflement, corrections, and derision.  Nonetheless, here is a follow-up headline from Yahoo News, echoed by many Internet sources: “Trump Trolled Over Remark About Sweden.”  In the articles that appeared with this description, the evidence given was typically that various public figures around the world made posts that corrected, questioned, or made light of the statement.  And that, somehow, the President of the United States was now “a victim.”

When any attempt at correction of a falsehood, personal or cultural attack, or distortion of factual evidence — or even any satiric message that is in response to falsehoods communicated to the general public — is described as “trolling,” this is quite problematic.  Particularly when the figure or group or entity responsible for the original false statement, message, or attack is in a place of power.  Yet again, it is clear that media literacy requires knowing our vocabulary and using it correctly.  And, moreover, being able to communicate effectively and understand clearly are at the heart of schools and communities and governments that are based on ideals of freedom, equality, and justice.

And remember, if students are as wise as our friends the Three Billy Goats Gruff, they can get away to enjoy the beautiful, bountiful fields on the other side of the bridge.

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Across countless societies throughout history, teachers have regularly occupied highly scrutinized positions relative to their impact on young people and the expectations of their roles in terms of what they can and cannot say to their students.

Among the issues that define our relation to each other, language is undoubtedly one of the most important.  It is vital that words are used appropriately and precisely.  The study of cultures and societies often can revolve around the use and impact of words to describe human behavior and social currents.

Fake = Fabricated, Intentionally Fictitious

Fake = Fabricated, Intentionally Fictitious

During the past year, a notable phenomenon has arisen that has some history in print journalism but has taken on new meanings and uses in the age of the Internet and digital social media: “fake news.”  The basic definition of this practice as it quickly evolved in recent times is that stories and articles would be fabricated and posted through fictional, anonymous, or proxy web entities.  The content is completely fictional in nature.  Made up.  Quite often based on the talking points, trending topics, and attack ads of the moment.  By now, this has been a highly documented practice, sometimes from blighted enclaves in Macedonia or from “Cameron Harris, a new college graduate with a fervent interest in Maryland Republican politics and a need for cash,” as reported by actual journalist Scott Shane.

To be literate means to understand vehicles of communication – linguistic, visual, mathematical, and much more.  When methods of communication are twisted and used to distort or blind to the truth or the search for truth, this is quite serious and potentially extremely damaging.  As history has shown us, it can, indeed, be fatal.  When one’s leaders twist, misuse, or distort words, and particularly those that describe vital topics of the day, this can also be lethal to societies and to democracy.


A Free Press Classic by Sam Fuller

As Thomas Jefferson said, “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Language, words, and visual communication are very important, and so is our ability to interpret the various messages that are on the pages and various sized screens in front of us.  This is at the heart of what we call media literacy.  Teachers must continue to strive to enable our students to scrutinize the statements of those who represent us, of those with whom we engage in discussion and debate, and of those who research and report the stories that depict, interpret, and impact the world that we inhabit.

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black-mirror-4-picMediateacher.net has the inside scoop: Through the American presidential election and its aftermath, we are currently living in a nationwide performance piece that is the seventh, unreleased episode of the newest season of Black Mirror (being followed by a binge-watching worldwide viewership).  After such standout episodes as Nosedive, Shut Up and Dance, and Hated in the Nation, the innovative British series created by Charlie Brooker has upped the ante substantially by involving the general public in a surreal creation that lives up to the promise of a Twilight Zone for the digital age.  And our English teachers should have fun with some cross-curricular doses of Vonnegut or Orwell.

I promise, everything will be all right.

I promise, everything will be all right.

Know your media literacy, travelers!  (See #4 here.)

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media-literacy-week1230x10001It’s national Media Literacy Week hosted by our professional association NAMLE!  Sign the pledge to be media literate!  And here you can check out NAMLE Executive Director Michelle Ciulla Lipkin talking about Giving Kids A Voice During Election Season on politico.com.

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obamas-2008As we near election day in the United States, this also means that the days of the Barack Obama presidency are concurrently winding down.  As opposed to examining the initiatives and actions of the Obama Administration in current events lessons and Civics classes, educators and students will begin to integrate study of these momentous previous eight years into coursework that deals with contemporary history.  These investigations and evaluations of this administration must also be seen through the lens of public perception and the roles of media platforms in what we see, hear, and communicate about our government.  As has been noted on previous occasions in posts at mediateacher.net — such as in Media Literacy at the White House and The Presidential Inauguration and Imagesit’s not something that can be said too often in U.S. history, but President Obama’s tenure has been a game changer for media literate leadership.

How will the events of these years be seen through the prism of comparison and contrast with other eras and leadership examples?  Undoubtedly, perceptions will be made up of a mix of facts, perceptive analyses, partisan posturing, storytelling, advertising, and many variations in between.  It is clear that both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are already inspiring profound reflections on the major impact of their years in the White House, such as the piece titled “To the First Lady, With Love” from the New York Times Magazine, featuring “four thank-you notes to Michelle Obama, who has spent the past eight years quietly and confidently changing the course of American history,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gloria Steinem, Jon Meacham, and Rashida Jones.  

familyThe inspired, heartfelt testimonials that have been beginning to appear over recent months echo similar tributes seen at the end of another Democratic presidency that was marked by messages of change and fresh renewal (whether borne out by the reality of its achievements or not): the Kennedy administration.  Interestingly, this was also a presidency that consistently demonstrated the vital importance of media literacy to understand the contexts and legacy of political events in modern eras.  Television and film, including home movies, were to mark and shape the John F. Kennedy presidency and its legacy like no other previous administration, while the Obama presidency will be seen as having a relationship to the media platforms of its era like never before, particularly in the relationships of Internet, social media, and popular discourse, along with the explosion of the television experience.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Michelle Obama, and Daveed Diggs at the White House

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Michelle Obama, and Daveed Diggs at the White House

In the midst of this, there is another rather intriguing parallel of note.  The Kennedy presidency was marked by the pastoral and cannily mystical term of “Camelot” (by President Kennedy’s widow Jacqueline Kennedy shortly after his assassination) to describe a feeling of the “moment” that embodies the time of the Kennedys in the White House: “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot” (Lerner and Loewe).  In an even more direct way with the current administration, a musical can be seen to embody the impact and times of the current presidency.  For one to describe that place of a shining home upon a hill, with its growing family, glamorous parties, and vegetable garden, yet inhabited by people whose skin color would have marked them as slaves in the years of the construction of this home, a term that comes to mind is “Hamiltonia.”

President Barack Obama relaxes on a sofa in the Oval Office with wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha, Feb. 2, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be used in materials, advertisements, products, or promotions that in any way suggest approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

The Obama family in the Oval Office

For a musical to emerge that examines the roots of the country and in which the principals are played by people whose ethnicity reflects not that of the founding fathers but those who currently inhabit the White House, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton marks one occasion where the creative output of a culture and the zeitgeist embodied by its leaders are remarkably in sync.  The celebrations and honors by those who have been inspired and empowered by the examples and actions of Barack and Michelle Obama have only just begun; it seems clear that the impacts and legacy of their images and personas will continue to resound for generations to come.  For me, this striking, dynamic place and time of the Obama family in the White House might be called Hamiltonia. 

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Photo of Adam and Leonard Nimoy courtesy of Nimoy Archives/CBS

Photo of Adam and Leonard Nimoy courtesy  Nimoy Archives/CBS

In this time of  great tension, conflict, and debate related to issues of ethnicity, cultural understanding or lack thereof, and feelings of belonging to larger cultures among minority groups, a documentary released this month provides an interesting example of how these issues have been addressed in clever and innovative ways in American TV and movie history.  Among the many groundbreaking moments and characters from the Star Trek universe, from the kiss of Kirk and Uhura to the positive characters of Sulu and Chekov at times of intense conflict in Asia and across the Iron Curtain, it is clear that some of the most powerful explorations of diversity and of those whom many see as “different” or “outsiders” is embodied in the half-human, half-Vulcan Mr. Spock.  For the Love of Spocka documentary by his Leonard Nimoy’s son, Adam, has been released this month, and it explores the powerful impact of Nimoy on those with whom he worked as well as the role of Spock as an “Outsider” at a time when that was rarely, if ever, seen in popular media platforms, particularly television.  Here is an interview with Adam Nimoy about his work creating this documentary, along with this new article by Robert Ito: Spock: Half-Vulcan, Half-Human, All Outsider Role Model.   And on these pages, there was an earlier post, To Live Long and Prosper, which celebrated the legacy of actor and multi-media creator Leonard Nimoy.

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