Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Think or Swim

In his introduction to How to See Yourself as You Really Are by the Dalai Lama, His Holiness notes "the most serious problems emanate from industrially advanced societies, where unprecedented literacy only seems to have fostered restlessness and discontent."

I see this in my students (and teachers, and just about everyone) as they obsessively check their mobile phones for texts, missed calls. I hear it in sound bytes from the latest news cycle that are taken without anything but superficial consideration and repeated as deep truths of what's happening today. Common sense, refection, and reverence are replaced by these sound bytes repeated as if mantras for a news cycle, and then replaced by the next gossip in the next moment.
Literacy, and here I am thinking of media literacy, must be stressed with our students to mean more than merely how to read a text or how to blog or make a video. Literacy is more than mere expression and understanding of a message.

Being teachers of English and across the disciplines, we teach our students how to read and write in a variety of media. It seems such a struggle to teach students to wade through myriad messages and identify propaganda and selected framing of ideas, let alone to dive into rhetoric and logic, then swim among questions and rise above to see things in larger contexts.

Of course, the total glut of media works against all of this. One might sit next to a lake and consider it for a long time without knowing its contents, yet today we seem awash in a tsunami. Ironically, survival in the latter is proportionally more crucial than in the former. One must not only be taught what water is, but also how to swim in it.

As we develop our students' abilities to digest media, some great emphasis must be given not only to forms but also to content. Knowledge isn't enough, thinking about the knowledge or lack thereof must be the focus. Perhaps if we ask our students to consider the messenger first, the message second, and then media third, we will be better equipping our students to find peace and contentment.

Image credit: "Grace Bay Beach Pier" 2007 by WisDoc used with permission of Creative Commons Copyright

No comments: