As someone who deals with primary sexual violence prevention education, media literacy is my preferred way to engage with students, and begin to change the attitudes and behaviors that become entrenched so early. My greatest experiences as a parent and informal educator working with Middle and High School students come from the transformation that takes place as they begin to question and critique media and advertising, especially the gender stereotypes, rigid gender roles, sexism, sexualization and violence. Deconstructing and talking about what they’re seeing, hearing and experiencing in media, and learning how that affects them and the ways in which they can “talk back” to media, are empowering experiences. Teaching critical thinking applied to media is a fairly simple way to help young people make more informed, healthy and positive choices over their lifetime. For young people growing up in the digital/information/media age, in which they cannot help being influenced by media and pop culture messaging, media literacy can no longer be considered an extra and should ideally be embedded into their school curriculum and home life as much as possible.
Thankfully, over the past couple years there does seem to be some traction and the momentum in the media and digital literacy fields, due to a variety of factors that include countless individuals over many decades who built a foundation and worked to keep this conversation alive, NAMLE (National Association of Media Literacy Education) and other media and digital literacy organizations, Media Literacy Now’s state-by-state advocacy work (see sample letter to your state legislators), and social media. I have been incredibly inspired by educators, advocates, parents and many others who understand the absolute necessity of these literacies to 21st century life and who are working so hard to make a difference in the lives of our youth.
If you would like to learn more or participate in the first Media Literacy Week taking place November 2 – 6, 2015, organized by NAMLE, in partnership with over 100 partners across the country, click HERE to find a program/event near you (or to start your own).
Leanne McGowan is the Media Literacy and Community Prevention Coordinator at a sexual violence prevention center, and a media literacy consultant and presenter at Kidsbridge Tolerance Museum in New Jersey. She also serves as President of the NJ Chapter of Media Literacy Now. Leanne aspires to start young people on a lifelong journey with media literacy, which she leverages as an empowerment tool to promote gender equality, build self-esteem and prevent sexual and gender based violence. With a background in art history and cultural/educational programming, Leanne realizes she’s been fascinated with analyzing and deconstructing media and culture long before she became involved with the media literacy movement. An irrational optimist and mother of three teenagers, Leanne is passionate about gender equality, girl-focused leadership and activism, helping end violence against girls/women, and using media literacy as a catalyst for all the above!